If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), you are not alone. RA is the most common autoimmune arthritis, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans.

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis can be difficult, especially when it causes pain, stiffness, and fatigue. However, there are several ways to help manage the symptoms.

Let’s dive into 6 Ways to Manage Stiffness Caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis. From exercise to lifestyle changes, we’ll cover all the ways to reduce stiffness and live a more active and comfortable life with RA.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis & Why Does it Cause Stiffness?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of autoimmune arthritis that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. It typically affects the hands, feet, knees, and shoulders but can also affect other body parts.

An autoimmune condition means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissues; in this case, it attacks the joints. RA is also considered a systemic disease, which can affect other tissues and organs, like the eyes, lungs, and skin. Other symptoms may include fatigue, joint pain, low-grade fevers, loss of appetite, and weakness. When RA has not been managed appropriately, it can be debilitating to those suffering.

The most common symptom of RA is stiffness in the joints. This stiffness is usually worse in the morning or after periods of rest. But why is that? When we sleep, our bodies increase the production of different hormones, which can trigger swelling and stiffness in the mornings. When we sleep we are also stationary for a long period of time, contributing to this stiffness. For most, as they begin to move throughout their morning, this stiffness goes away; however, for some people, it can last much longer. 

7 Tips to Manage Stiffness

1 – Move Slow First Thing in the AM

It’s common to wake up feeling stiff, sore, and ready to get back into bed. Moving slowly and deliberately is one skill you can develop that will help relieve some of this morning stiffness. Taking regular pauses to breathe and move mindfully can alleviate symptoms in your joints for hours at a time. Moving slowly also allows you to practice mindfulness which can further reduce physical pain and stress throughout the day.

Allowing for the time to embrace a slow movement in the morning – even if it’s just for five minutes – can make all the difference in managing your stiffness and finding comfort in your body.

2 – Practice Stretching

Stretching helps to prevent stiffness and fatigue, as well as alleviates pain from joint inflammation. It also increases the range of motion in your joints, making it easier to complete everyday tasks. Even better, stretching does not require intense physical activity. 

Stretching has additional benefits like stress relief and improved circulation, which can help someone with RA live a more active lifestyle. Therefore, it is a worthwhile investment in improving your overall well-being.

3 – Exercise

Prioritizing gentle exercises is vital to your overall health management when you have RA. Exercise can help to increase flexibility and range of motion, reduce stiffness, and improve stamina and overall physical fitness. Although it is essential to move these affected joints frequently, it is also necessary to practice gentle exercises that focus on warm-up and cool-down techniques. 

Exercises should be low impact; lifting free weights or using large exercise machines can place too much strain on impacted joints. Instead, we recommend pool-based activities, walking, strength training with light weights or resistance bands, stationary biking, yoga, or Tai Chi. 

Incorporating gentle exercises into your daily routine can go a long way to keeping your body healthy even when living with this chronic condition. 

4 – Heat Therapy

Heat therapy and infrared sauna therapy can benefit those who have rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Heat applied externally can help relax tense muscles and reduce inflammation. In addition, it improves circulation to facilitate healing and provides relief from joint stiffness. 

An infrared sauna increases blood flow throughout the body to help reduce pain. Infrared light is believed to penetrate deeper than other forms of heat therapy to provide relief in the most affected areas. Additionally, sweating helps detoxify the body by removing toxins that can cause inflammation– making saunas particularly beneficial for treating rheumatoid arthritis. 

Combining heat and infrared therapies can aid in the body’s natural healing process while reducing any pain or discomfort related to this condition. 

5 – Diet and Supplementation

The Autoimmune Protocol or Paleo Diet (AIP), focuses on eating whole foods and excluding ingredients known to trigger inflammatory reactions. AIP eliminates common food allergens such as gluten, dairy, grains, eggs, processed foods, and certain vegetables—all of which may cause a flare-up in those with RA. Furthermore, adding probiotics and fermented foods to the diet has been proven to reduce severe joint swelling in people with RA. 

Omega 3 fatty acids, curcumin, and turmeric have all been studied for their anti-inflammatory effects on arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring but can also be found in flaxseed and walnuts. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation by inhibiting specific pro-inflammatory mediators. 

Curcumin is an active ingredient in turmeric powder. Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to help with symptoms of RA, such as pain and joint swelling. In addition, turmeric is known to contain a variety of anti-inflammatory compounds that may protect and support joint health.

We generally recommend RootFix Omega Max and Theracurmin to our RA patients.

6 – Work With a Functional Medicine Doctor

A functional medicine doctor works differently than a conventional doctor. In traditional medicine, doctors will prescribe medications to mask symptoms and reduce pain. However, this practice does not treat the issue at hand. There is a reason you have developed this condition.

A functional medicine doctor will look at ALL contributors to your condition and the real root cause behind it. Then, they will run comprehensive testing that dives much deeper into your health than the standard testing. This gives them a clear idea of where to start your individual treatment plan. Our office combines this testing with lifestyle changes, nutrition, and health coaching in our Adaptation Programs.

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis doesn’t have to be unmanageable. Numerous effective options are available, such as exercise, heat therapy, diet and supplementation changes, and functional medicine.

If you want relief from RA, work with us at Grassroots Functional Medicine. Our experienced functional medicine team is here to help! So request your FREE Discovery Call today and start your journey towards a healthier tomorrow.

Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.