What can I do to make living with my arthritis easier?
Getting dressed, brushing your teeth, eating a meal — you do these things every day. But people with arthritis often struggle with these everyday activities.
Often, simple tweaks make these tasks easier to manage, and there is a world of adaptive products designed for people with arthritis. Start with the following tips for an easier daily routine.
In the kitchen
Open up: If you have arthritis in your hands, opening a jar presents a challenge. For mild cases, a rubber jar-opening grip helps by adding traction. If that doesn’t do the trick, consider buying a specialized opener for jars, cans and other containers.
Get a grip: If you love to cook, pots and pans with soft grips and longer handles may ease the process. Likewise, if you have trouble handling silverware, adaptive utensils with thicker handles make it easier to enjoy your home-cooked meals.
In the bathroom
Elevate your seat: For many — especially those with knee, hip and back issues — getting on and off the toilet is a daily challenge. Solutions range from elevated seats that add height to a toilet to powered toilet lifts if you need the extra help.
Go electric: Electric toothbrushes have fatter, easier-to-grip handles than traditional ones. They also do much of the brushing work for you, which is helpful if you have shoulder problems. Similarly, electric razors make shaving easier and may reduce the nicks and cuts you get from shaving with achy, unsteady hands.
Shower smart: If you have trouble getting in and out of the shower or fear falls, try installing rails or using an adjustable shower chair. Other, simpler changes can help, too. For example, liquid soap is easier to handle than bars. You can even add an automatic dispenser to your shower.
Try wiping alternatives: Nobody wants to talk about toilet hygiene, but it’s important. Patients often tell me arthritis prevents them from getting properly clean, which leads to irritation. One alternative: Buy rolled cotton, and break off pieces to use when wiping. Cotton feels more tactile than toilet paper, and you can moisten it for better cleaning. Just remember: Don’t flush it, or you will have plumbing work to do.
In the living room
Firm up your seat: That big, cushy recliner might look inviting, but it may do more harm than good. A chair that is too soft aggravates symptoms in your back, for example. And when you sink into a chair, it’s harder to get back up. Shop for a firm chair that’s high enough for you to get in and out easily. Powered chairs can give you a boost back up, if needed.
Add doorknob handles: If turning traditional, rounded doorknobs is a strain, consider getting adapters. These fit over doorknobs and include a lever mechanism that requires only a push rather than a turn.
In the dressing room
Slip into your shoes: For many of my patients, putting on shoes is the toughest part of getting dressed. Tiny, traditional shoehorns don’t cut it. But like gardening and cleaning tools, you can buy shoehorns with long handles (two to three feet). Using these long handles eliminates the need to bend and struggle.
Zip up: Because zippers and buttons on clothing are so small, they are difficult to maneuver if you’re dealing with swollen, inflamed joints. Consider buying a multi-use dressing tool, which helps pull zippers shut and even slip buttons into place.
How do I deal with the pain in my hands?
Because pain in your hands makes it harder to do everyday tasks and activities, you need practical ways to get through the day. Beyond medical treatment, you can take steps on your own — with the help of experts — to get a grip on your condition.
Take advantage of timing
Hand pain varies for different types of arthritis.
For example, people with osteoarthritis tend to have pain that gets worse as the day goes on. If this applies to you, try being more active in the morning. Get your gardening or yard work — and other activities that require heavy hand use — done early. Schedule your tee time or tennis game for the morning. You’ll feel and perform better as a result.
People with rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory conditions may feel the opposite. They tend to wake up stiff. As the day goes on, they loosen up. If that describes you, save your activities for the afternoon and evening, when you feel your best.
In either case, don’t overdo it. For people with arthritis, the “play through the pain” sports cliché offers a recipe for injuries.
Get expert advice on adapting
Never underestimate your power to adapt. But also don’t underestimate an occupational therapist’s (OTs) ability to help you adapt.
For example, an OT can offer exercises designed to strengthen your grip, keep your pain levels down and increase your range of motion. All three are critical.
An OT also can help you adjust how you interact with everyday objects in your home or office, plus sports gear. For example, some people with severe thumb issues change the way they grip ski poles to put less stress on their thumbs.
Your hobby might differ, but the goal of working with an OT remains the same: to help you be as active and independent as possible.
Embrace ice and heat
First, the ice. An ice massage can do wonders for pain caused by physical activity. Take a piece of ice and rub it in a circular motion over your painful joint. Just don’t do it for more than five minutes at a time so you don’t irritate your skin. You can use an ice pack with a cover, too.
As for heat, soaking in warm water offers relief. In fact, some people with rheumatoid arthritis enjoy the feeling of warm water so much they will even hand-wash dishes in the sink to get a good soak. Just remember that heat isn't always a good idea for an acute injury.
Seek specialized tools
With help from an OT or a doctor — or groups such as the Arthritis Foundation — you can find adaptive tools to ease your hand pain.
For example, look for kitchen utensils and gardening tools with special, thicker grips if you have trouble handling regular tools.
In the office, you can order special keyboards for computers that are easier on your hands, plus hands-free headsets for talking on the phone. You can even get special pen adapters that make putting ink on paper easier.
The same goes for physical activity. For golf, tennis or other hand-intensive sports, specialized grips can make a big difference. Gloves are recommended for all sorts of activities, too. They reduce friction, and the compression they provide can ease symptoms. A golf glove may help your tennis game, for example, even if it takes some getting used to. And even though gardeners love the feel of the earth, the protection and extra grip gloves provide are important.
What works for you may not work for somebody else, so it may take a little experimentation to find relief. But don’t be afraid to ask an OT or doctor for help. Your hands are too important to your daily life.
How do I deal with arthritis affecting my sex life?
There are ways to overcome the hurdles arthritis places in your way. They take patience, a willingness to try new things and honesty with your partner. But sex is an important and healthy part of life. Usually, the benefits are worth extra effort.
Try a new position
Pain is a major symptom of arthritis. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the major barriers to sex.
Sometimes a small change in your routine — such as trying a new position — can make a big difference. A few examples:
- If arthritis in your hips makes being on the bottom too painful, switch to the top.
- If lower back pain is your main problem, try using pillows to support your back and ease discomfort.
- If knees are your pain points, try positions that take the stress off of them. This may mean being on the bottom, for example.
- If other positions put stress on your aching joints, try a “spooning” position where both you and your partner lie on your sides.
For people with arthritis, “mixing things up” is about more than variety. It’s practical. Finding the right positions for you will take time — and experimentation.
Pick the best time for sex
Pain is one factor. Fatigue is another. There are certain times of day when you may feel too drained for sex. And although most medications for arthritis don’t affect sexual function, drugs such as methotrexate (for rheumatoid arthritis) can add to your fatigue.
Planning can help. Do you feel most rested and energetic first thing in the morning or in the afternoon? Is your pain level at its lowest a few minutes after you take an anti-inflammatory? Make these your windows of opportunity. Bedtime is not the only time for sex, especially if that’s when you feel your worst.
“But sex is better when it’s spontaneous,” you may think. It’s a romantic notion, but it’s not always true. Couples often have to work to keep up a healthy sex life in the long term. Finding creative solutions for pain and fatigue is just part of that work.
Talk it through with your partner
If you don’t talk about sex, you can’t work at it.
Not all issues that come with arthritis are physical. You may have depression. You may feel less attractive than you used to. Don’t keep these issues to yourself.
If talking is too tough for you, consider bringing your partner to an appointment and letting your doctor start the conversation. In some cases, couples’ counseling can help you deal with the relationship concerns that come with chronic pain.
Being open and honest can lead to creative solutions. For example, if intercourse is simply too painful, using adult toys or trying other forms of intimacy such as massage offer alternatives. You’ll never know if you don’t start the conversation.
Deal with related concerns
Sometimes rheumatoid arthritis brings physical concerns beyond pain and fatigue. About 15% to 20% of rheumatoid arthritis patients also have Sjögren’s syndrome, which leads to dryness in several parts of the body, including the vagina.
For women with Sjögren’s syndrome, intercourse tends to cause pain. Personal lubricants can make a world of difference. Just be sure to check the label for the ingredient propylene glycol. This ingredient causes irritation for some people.
If fatigue is your biggest issue, lifestyle changes can help. Cut out highly refined foods, which may affect inflammation. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables to boost your nutrient levels. Add low-impact exercise to your weekly routine. Don’t burn the candle at both ends, because rest is crucial.
These tips are good for anybody’s health. But for people with arthritis, they can help boost the energy you need for all of life’s activities — including sex.