Making Life Easier with Arthritis

Pain, fatigue, brain fog, difficulty with everyday tasks, doctor visits, midde-of-the-night pain, disability leave, flares, surgeries, chronic pain, insurance snafus, tough talks with loved ones — and did we mention pain? When dealing with a chronic illness like arthritis, there are a lot of Big Things you have to deal with, often over and over again. “I was diagnosed at a very young age with rheumatoid arthritis — I was just 16 — and I was totally overwhelmed with everything I was ‘supposed’ to do,” says Stephanie M., 24, of Brisbane, Australia. “Even with my parents’ help, it just felt like I would never have a normal life.”

However, now that Stephanie has almost a decade of experience with arthritis, she sees things a little differently. “I had to learn not to get hung up on the big stuff because it would drive me mad,” she says. “Instead I learned to focus on doing the little things that would have a big impact on my lifestyle.”

And it turns out there are a lot of simple things you can do to make your life more comfortable, fun, less painful, and easier overall. “You can’t control your arthritis, but you can control how you deal with it — and that mindset has been very powerful for me,” Stephanie says.

To help you, we asked people with arthritis to share the little changes, new habits, and tips that have made the biggest difference to them.

Rethink Everyday Tasks

1. Make voice dictation your friend

“Texting is a major way I keep in touch with people but using my fingers to type or even swipe can be so painful. I got a phone that uses the Google Assistant, which takes voice commands. I can voice-dictate texts and emails. I also ask my phone to open apps, play music, search the internet, and make phone calls. I installed an app on my laptop that allows me to use voice dictation there too. The more you use it, the better it gets at recognizing your voice.” — Stephanie M., 24, rheumatoid arthritis

2. Buy arthritis-friendly clothing

“I used to be all about fashion and wearing trendy stuff, but my arthritis has really changed how I look at my clothes. I still enjoy looking cute but now I make sure I have elastic-waist pants, loose tops, jewelry I can slip over my head, and flat, comfortable shoes for bad days. You can buy pants that look like dress slacks but are as easy to wear as yoga pants.” — Stephanie

3. Get automated gadgets

“There are days when I have barely any use of my hands so I do everything I can to protect them. At home, I have automatic everything: can openers, soap dispensers, lights, toilets, TVs. Even my appliances use touch screens instead of buttons. Sometimes I use my nose to touch them!” — Phillip L., 71, osteoarthritis

4. Invest in adaptive tools

“They make some really cool things for people with arthritis these days, like foam grips you can put around utensils, cups, handles, and things to make them easier to hold on to. I also like my button hook/zipper pull as it makes getting dressed much easier.” — Phillip

Check out this list of popular assistive devices for arthritis.

5. Buy a Roomba

“I can’t vacuum. I can’t stand the pressure on my hands, I can’t be on my feet that long, my balance isn’t good, and honestly, I just don’t have the energy for it. My husband bought me a Roomba for Christmas last year and I’m in love with it. It cleans the floors without me having to do a thing, except sometimes get it unstuck when it gets tangled in cords. Best present ever!” — Alisa F., 25, lupus

Here are more tips for making chores easier when you have arthritis.

6. Sign up for grocery delivery

“I order groceries online from Walmart, Costco, and even the local farmer’s market. There’s nothing I can’t get delivered. The apps even allow to me to save my grocery lists and use coupons.” — Janelle W., 42, lupus

7. Trick out your toilet

“I have Crohn’s disease along with arthritis and so I spend a lot of time in the bathroom. I figured I might as well make it comfortable. I had a heated toilet seat installed, along with a grip bar on the wall so standing and sitting are much easier. A small stool for my feet helps take pressure off my legs. Honestly it really is the little things that matter the most!” — Molly B., 46, inflammatory arthritis

8. Make your shower safer

“Having a step-in shower was one of my top priorities in finding an apartment. Stepping over and into a slippery bathtub is just too difficult for me, not to mention dangerous if I trip. I also added a shower chair, a grip bar, and a textured adhesive bath mat in the shower.” — Molly

Here are more tips for making it easier to shower with arthritis.

Manage Your Pain

9. Try CBD

“I use a CBD [cannabidiol] salve, with a small amount of THC, when my joints get really painful. I only have one kidney so I have to be really careful with pain medications. CBD has been a lifesaver for me.” — Angie K., 51, osteoarthritis

Read more about arthritis patients’ experiences taking CBD for pain and other symptoms.

10. Apply heat, heat, and more heat

“I sleep with two electric blankets, one on top and one on the bottom. I also have a heated hand warmer and love hot baths. Do not underestimate the soothing power of heat!” — Angie

11. Take your meds exactly as prescribed

“If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t take my medications seriously. I was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis when I was 17 and I didn’t want to be different than all my friends so I didn’t bother with my meds or just took them when I felt like it. I was like ‘screw it, I’m going to die young anyhow, what does it matter.’ It actually matters a lot: I’m 29 now and have several fused joints and deformations in my fingers. I could have prevented or at least slowed that if I’d taken my meds like I was supposed to.” — Misha B., 29, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis

12. Get in the water

“There’s something so mentally and physically soothing about being in water. I love a good soak in a bath or hot tub, but my favorite thing is to float in a big pool. I love the feeling of being weightless, all the pressure is off my body, and I love gently gliding through the water. It’s so healing. On my worst days I can stay in there for hours. I bought a gym membership just for the pool.” — Misha

Check out these water exercises that are especially good for people with arthritis.

13. Wear compression gloves

“I used to be a concert pianist until arthritis in my hands made it too painful to play. Then I noticed a friend, who was a master embroiderer but had to give it up for similar reasons, stitching again. She was wearing compression gloves. I bought a pair of my own and they are amazing. I wear them day and night. I’m playing the piano again! This is also good because playing music is one of the ways I take my mind off my chronic pain issues.” — Xiao Min, 60, osteoarthritis

Make Your Lifestyle Healthier

14. Move every day

“The single best thing I did to make my life easier with arthritis was to start a daily exercise program. I started with just walking and now I do everything from kickboxing to rock climbing. That, combined with my medication, took me from needing a walker to get out of bed in the morning to running 5Ks. If I take more than one day off in a row I can really feel the pain and stiffness coming back.” — Jefferson K., 26, psoriatic arthritis

15. Don’t ignore the little symptoms

“I had what I thought was pink eye but when it didn’t clear up after a month, my doctor did additional tests. It turns out I was having an arthritis flare in my eye. I’d been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis two years earlier and never even knew I could get it in my eye. Because it went untreated for so long that flare took so much longer to calm down. Now I know that I need to take even little things seriously or I risk getting knocked off my feet for weeks.” — Jefferson

16. Try modifying your diet

“I think cutting out wheat (gluten), dairy, and sugar has helped put my arthritis into remission. RA sucks so much and I hate that I have to follow such a restrictive diet but every time I’m tempted to cheat I just remember waking up in tears because of the pain in my hips. It’s not easy and everyone is different but it was very effective for me.” — Darcy J., 51, rheumatoid arthritis

17. Carry hand sanitizer

“I’ve been on biologic infusions for two years and they’re amazing; my arthritis is is almost entirely in remission. But biologics can lower your immune system and you have to be extra vigilant. I don’t shake people’s hands, try to avoid others when they are sick, and I carry hand sanitizer and use it all the time. I probably look crazy but I don’t care.” — Jefferson

Get more advice about staying healthy with inflammatory arthritis during cold and flu season.

18. Lose just five pounds

“I didn’t realize how much my weight was hurting my knees until I lost some weight. My doctor put me on methotrexate and it made my stomach hurt all the time so I never wanted to eat. I hated those pills but I lost 10 pounds in a month. It wasn’t a ton of weight but I immediately noticed how much easier it was to walk now. My back hurts much less too. It’s not about looking skinny — trust me, I’m far from skinny — but the improvement in my mobility is amazing. I just joined Weight Watchers to try and lose 30 more pounds.” — Mary S., 55, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and degenerative disc disease

19. Find a way to do what you love

“Arthritis took so many things from me, things that make me who I am. But I’ve found it’s important to maintain myself by keeping my hobbies. I just find new ways to do them. For instance, I loved dancing and now I do a more gentle type of dancing. I like to paint but now I use a brush with a handle I don’t have to grip to use.” — Xiao Min

20. Keep a gratitude journal

“Every day I write down three things I’m grateful for in a bullet journal. It keeps me focused on the positive things in my life. I also use it to track my symptoms day to day so I can tell if my treatments are working. My journal has become my lifeline in so many ways.” — Stephanie

You can also use our ArthritisPower app to track your symptoms and disease activity and share your results with your doctor.

Workarounds at Work

21. Get a better keyboard

“I couldn’t even work for the first hour every morning at work because the osteoarthritis in my hands made it too painful to type and the majority of my job has to be done on a computer. Getting an ergonomic split keyboard made all the difference. It helps me keep my wrists in a more comfortable position. I still have pain but it’s much more manageable now.” — Steven T., 50, osteoarthritis

22. Invest in an ergonomic mouse

“I also use an upright mouse. It allows me to hold it with a loose hand, with my elbow on my desk, so it’s much easier on my hands. In addition, the buttons are much more convenient and easier to push.” — Steven

23. Upgrade your office chair with a heated lumbar support pad

“My back would ache unbearably by the end of the day. Sitting at my desk I could feel my vertebrae rubbing together. Then my wife got me a lumbar support seat cushion to support my back. It straps on to my chair and even has options for heat and vibration; the heat is particularly helpful on days when my pain is bad.” — Lisanne L., 29, ankylosing spondylitis

24. Ask for a flexible schedule

Mornings are the worst time of day for my arthritis. No matter what I do, it takes me hours to get fully ready and functional which made my job as a medical assistant so much harder. I was always late and had trouble with some of the basic tasks. Then I swapped shifts so I could work nights, a schedule that allows me more time to get up and moving.” — Alanna M., 22, spondyloarthritis

Get Your Head in The Game

25. See a therapist

“One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around after my diagnosis was that there is no cure for arthritis; I will have it the rest of my life. It sent me into a serious depression, which made me not want to take my meds, which made my pain worse, which made my depression worse… you see where this is going. Seeing a therapist trained in chronic illness helped me turn that around and today I’m living a better, healthier life than I was before my diagnosis. Take your mental health as serious as you do your physical health.” — Melissa A., 44, rheumatoid arthritis

26. Don’t overdo it

“I’ve always been an overachiever and I’m used to pushing myself but if arthritis has taught me one thing it’s that I have to cut myself some slack. Knowing my limits and taking it easy is not weakness or slacking, it’s being practical. I used to push really hard for days, trying to fit in as much as I could before my next flare-up, not even realizing that the pushing was probably causing the flare-up.” — Stephanie

27. Don’t compare yourself to other arthritis patients

“I’m really active in an online arthritis forum and it’s been good for me but I have to remind myself that my normal isn’t necessarily someone else’s normal. Yes, there are people with my same arthritis who run every day but for me just getting 5,000 steps a day is great and I’ve learned that anything more than that will leave me in pain the next day. Also, what drugs are miracle workers for someone else might not do much for you and vice versa.” — Alanna

28. Be honest

“When people ask me how I am doing, I tell them. Some days that means I say ‘my bones hurt, I can barely move.’ I used to be afraid to tell people the truth but it got too hard and they could tell I was in pain anyhow. I’m amazed at how often people want to help and are willing to listen.” — Darcy

Stay on Top of Your Medical Care

29. Find a doctor who will listen to you

“I went through doctor after doctor trying to get a diagnosis. Because I was just 21 and the joint pain came on very suddenly, they thought I’d just pulled a muscle and was being dramatic or something. After my hair started falling out in huge clumps — so obviously I wasn’t making it up! — I finally found a rheumatologist who is 100 percent in my corner. She gave me her email address and told me I can ask her questions any time and she’ll get back to me within 24 hours. Knowing someone is taking me seriously has helped so much.” — Alisa

30. Keep your insurance company on speed dial

“Because arthritis is a chronic illness, you’re going to spend a lot of time talking to your insurance company. It can be an intensely frustrating experience. I finally was assigned a patient representative who I can call directly with questions about coverage. She also sent me a printout of my coverage, copays, and specialists in my area.” — Melissa

31. Take a picture of your insurance cards

“I’ve filled out more medical intake forms than I have tax forms at this point. I’ve learned to streamline the process by keeping a picture of my insurance card — front and back — on my phone so I can get that information quickly. I also keep a list on my phone of my emergency contact, my primary care doctor, my pharmacy, and other numbers they ask for a lot.” — Melissa

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