7 Joint Pain Triggers That Can Make RA Worse
Joint Pain Culprits to Avoid
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic health condition in which your body's immune system mistakenly attacks your joints and other tissues, causing pain, swelling, and fatigue. Early treatment is the best way to slow and even prevent joint damage caused by RA, according to the 2015 American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Guideline for the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, published inArthritis Care & Research. This will help you live a healthier life and preserve your mobility.
There are also certain lifestyle habits you can adjust to help support your RA treatment plan and reduce joint pain. It helps to be aware of and take steps to prevent these common joint pain triggers.
Not only is smoking linked to an increased risk for developing RA, but continuing to smoke if you do have RA can make joint pain worse. "Smoking makes it harder for RA treatment to be effective," says Kevin Deane, MD, PhD, a rheumatologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine's Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver. People with RA who continue to smoke have higher levels of certain chemical markers in their body, which show ongoing disease activity and joint damage, even with treatment, according to research published in the January 2014 issue ofArthritis Research & Therapy. The reasons why smoking has this effect on RA treatment aren't yet clear. If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor.
Not Eating Enough Omega-3s
Foods rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and other cold-water fish, may help fight pain related to RA. The U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements notes that increased omega-3 intake could help reduce inflammation and may complement other treatments. Eating 3 to 6 grams a day of omega-3s could reduce the pain of inflammation, according to a study published in the July-August 2019 issue of the journalNutrition. This means eating more fish, flaxseed, and foods fortified with omega-3s, or taking supplements as recommended by your physician.
Putting Off Treatment
Waiting to talk to your doctor about your RA symptoms can make it harder to get joint pain under control, which is why the Arthritis Foundation recommends early and aggressive treatment. "Catching RA early is the most important thing people can do to make sure joint pain doesn't get worse," Dr. Deane says. Prompt treatment with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologics can help slow the progression of RA and prevent joint damage, according to the ACR guidelines. Talk to your doctor, who can help create an RA treatment plan that's right for you.
Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
"Use it or lose it" applies to RA. Aerobic physical activity and resistance or strength training both can improve quality of life and decrease depression or anxiety in people with RA, according to a review of research published in the May 2019 issue ofJoint Bone Spine. A sedentary lifestyle can harm your health in many ways, from increasing the risk for heart disease to further damaging your joints. "A lack of muscle strength can mean a lack of joint protection," Deane says. "Exercise and physical activity also seem to have some anti-inflammatory effects that may have benefits for people with RA." You don't need to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about creating a personalized exercise plan that works for you.
Doing High-Impact Exercise
Exercise is important to build muscle strength and protect your joints, but high-impact activities like running may cause joint pain during an RA flare or in cases of advanced disease. When joints are inflamed, don't force yourself to do more than you can, the Arthritis Foundation recommends. Instead, try gentle range-of-motion exercises like stretching to keep your joints flexible. Once the flare is over, start exercising again slowly with low-impact aerobic activities, like walking, and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts.
Stress in daily life may increase joint pain by altering your immune function and exacerbating your RA. Researchers are still trying to understand the connection between RA and stress, but stress can clearly affect how people with RA feel. "Stress can make perceived symptoms worse," Deane says. Need to reduce your stress? Choosing mind-body practices that help lower stress — biofeedback, mindfulness meditation, tai chi, or yoga — may help people with RA control joint pain, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Carrying around excess weight puts additional stress on your joints, and that can make RA symptoms worse and increase your risk for other health problems, such as heart disease. According to a study published in July 2015 inClinical and Experimental Rheumatology, obese people with RA do not respond as well to treatments as those who weigh less. So losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight may help improve your quality of life and the success of your treatment strategies. If you need to lose weight or aren't sure if your body weight is healthy, ask your doctor for input.
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