Increased disease activity when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is referred to as "flares." You may experience increased pain, stiffness, and fatigue that are more difficult to manage, even with your current treatments. During a flare, there are ways you can make the symptoms more manageable.
Elevate Affected Joints
Generally, you should not use a joint that is flaring. This is unreasonable in most situations, especially if your hands or weight bearing joints are a problem. When possible, minimize your activity, but find ways to elevate the affected joints while you rest or sleep. Elevation can reduce some of the rebound swelling and stiffness that occurs when the joint is at rest.
For example, if your knees are flaring and you need to walk throughout the day, you should use extra pillows or blankets to elevate your knees when you are resting. Since inflammation draws fluid to the affected joint, keeping your knees elevated can prevent some of the accumulated fluid from pooling in your knees, reducing both swelling and stiffness.
Use Moist Heat
When you experience joint swelling or your joints feel hot and inflamed, your first thought may be to use ice. Applying ice to an inflamed and swollen joint will likely exacerbate your pain. Heat is usually more soothing than cold, especially when the underlying pain is throbbing or aching. When possible, purchase a heating pad designed to administer moist heat, which can be more effective than dry heat. Moist heat is able to penetrate your skin quicker.
For smaller joints, such as the ankles, feet, hands, and wrists, purchasing a paraffin wax bath can be an effective form of heat therapy. Although you can create your own paraffin wax bath with simple supplies, you should consider investing in a temperature-controlled bath to prevent burns or irritation from wax that is too hot.
Modify Your Diet
You may want to follow an ongoing anti-inflammatory diet to determine if you experience a decrease in symptom severity and reduced flares. Many foods can have a mild anti-inflammatory effect, which can make flares easier to manage. Before incorporating any natural remedies into your diet, make sure they are not contraindicated with your current treatments.
Ginger is an easy food to incorporate into your diet and complements many foods. Buy a large piece of ginger and cut it into smaller pieces to store in the freezer. You can thaw small pieces as needed. Try adding a teaspoon of fresh, grated ginger to hot water and allowing it to steep for five minutes, depending on your taste. Add sweetener and lemon for added flavor. You may also want to add small amounts of fresh ginger to your favorite teas.
Joint flares are an inevitable part of battling RA. Being prepared for flares can make pain, swelling, and stiffness more manageable and help your current treatments work more effectively. For more information, talk to a rheumatology professional like Arthritis & Rheumatology Associates of South Jersey.