After 23 years, I have a few tricks and tips for coping with the issue of a chronic debilitating physical condition, even though I look healthy and normal. There are always little things that we have to think of that most able-bodied/healthy people may not consider at all when it comes to moving around. There are a few tools that can assist and provide some measure of comfort.
My favorite and best known tool is wearing gloves. I wear them no matter what the weather, even in summertime. Of course, I get stared at funny for that too, but what they don’t realize is that hot weather is the best for soothing aching hands within a pair of gloves. When I’m out and about, driving too, I wear Isotoner unlined women’s spandex shortie gloves:
They can also be purchased on Amazon. Prices fluctuate on Amazon for these, especially depending on time of year.
For work/home, I wear Imak Active Gloves:
Imak offers an Arthritis version, which is without the grippers found on the underside of the Active version. I prefer the Active version, as they seem to last longer and the grippers are a big help when grasping for an item.
To keep the chill away (thanks, Raynaud’s!) and provide warmth to my joints while at the desk, I use a heated wrap, which comes with handy pockets:
You can place it over a chair for heat through your back. Wear it length-wise, covering your legs. Wrap it around hips, knees, shoulders. It’s just big enough without being too cumbersome as a blanket can be at times. It’s perfect for the office. It comes with a standard plug. I haven’t had any issues so far with it not working on me as some mention in reviews. I do think it helps to keep pressure on it so that the heat remains on more consistently. It will eventually turn off as part of a safety feature. While on, it does seem to run through a heating cycle: flaring hot at first, fading away over time, then flaring back hotter. Kind of like Rheumatoid Arthritis, but way better.
For some extra support for hands and wrists, which are my main joints damaged by Rheumatoid Arthritis, I’ve found that these items are helpful, especially if you need to type away!
A keyboard wrist cushion is a must have for anyone with RA typing on a computer. I found a handy laptops sized one here, and it offers an elastic to hold it around the laptop edge:
A wrist cushion for the mouse is another must have! This one offers the option to buy one or two (one for home, one for work) and is super comfortable:
Another item that also helps more than anything is a wrist/hand brace. I’ve tried a few over the years, but my favorite is by Futuro with their Slim Silhouette Wrist Support, designed for women (less bulky design, basically). They offer it for the right or left wrists; you have to buy the specific side. They are available here at Amazon, but I’ve also found them at Target and Meijer:
Another trick I’ve learned over the years involve modification of movement in order to do common tasks, like opening doors. Heavy doors are one of my daily frustrations. I try to never push a door open with my hand flat out against it, wrist bent. If anything, I’ll turn the back of my hand against door, not bending wrist but holding it straight with my arm (like an extension of the arm) and use the lower arm with back of hand to push in. The main trick is to use my body weight to open it up, utilizing a bent elbow pointed out, my shoulder, a bent arm. If I need to hold a door open for someone behind me, I use a foot, arm, lean into door; anything to take the weight off of a particular joint area (such as hand, over stressing a wrist, etc.) and use the weight of my body instead through a larger limb/number of parts. Sometimes it can feel like a contest to come up with how to open a door without using actual hands (as most people do). If it’s a pull open door, I try to pull it open with enough force that I can catch the door with my arm bent, putting the lower half of it against the door itself, using the body weight through the arm and shoulder to hold it open. Granted, this only works if your arms/elbows/shoulders aren’t often flaring. But never use just the hand/wrist to carry the weight of the door.
Oh, another tip for doors, such as when leaving the restroom? Grab some paper towel to use for touching the door handle (unless you can push it open with a shoulder, etc.). I always do this at work. I’ve heard a few too many people just walk out of a stall and pull open that door, walking out. Eyes wide, horrified. “Did I just hear them leave? Yes, I did. Ew.” Our immune systems have enough to deal with, we don’t need any of that bullshit, right? Paper towels to the rescue!
Back during my “Still-a-Good-Catholic-Under-My-Parents’-Roof” years in my late teens, Rheumatoid Arthritis made it complicated to extend the “Peace Be With You” without my hand being crushed by others, let alone the Priest (this has happened). Not such a peaceful blessing when it triggers a hand flare. My Mom actually came up with an effective solution: clasp hands behind the back and bow forward, stating “peace be with you” while smiling (crucial!). If they look confused, it’s up to you if you want to tell them why you’re neglecting to offer your hand during the sign of peace. You have RA. It’s not worth suffering a new flare. Also think of the germs you’re sparing your compromised immune system. Can you be certain that they always wash their hands after using the restroom? It’s not really a sin either (though it should be!)
Lastly, the biggest tip/trick I have is to remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself. You’re allowed to say no. You’re allowed to say yes. You’re allowed to stay in. You’re allowed to go out. It doesn’t have to involve anyone else. It could just be a date with yourself. A chance to sit outside in the warmth of the sun, while sitting in the yard or in a park. Or watch from the window or out back as the sun sinks down and the moon rises up in the dark. You are allowed to be mad. You are allowed to be sad. You are allowed to tell someone else if it gets to be too hard. You are allowed to ask for help if you feel life’s gone too far. You are allowed to want to do everything on your own. And when you can’t, you are allowed to be frustrated and groan. You are allowed to try. You are allowed to cry. You are allowed to scream at the heavens demanding “Why?” You are allowed to feel joy, laugh, and smile. You are allowed to need your time and energy to be spent on what you consider to be worthwhile. Find something that always brings you joy. Something that RA can never destroy. Keep it within easy reach for those moments, days, (years…) when life is too overwhelming to cope. Use this as a tool to ignite the fire inside of you and give rise to hope.
Take care of you!