Living With
Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is both an autoimmune disorder and a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in your hands and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissues. This can cause damage and inflammation, especially in the tissues of your joints, which can eventually result in damage to your bones and cartilage.


Although rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, it usually begins after age 40. The disorder is much more common in women than in men.

Fast RA Facts

  • RA affects women more than men, with about 3 women for every man
  • RA affects around 1% of the population (approximately 300,000 Canadians)

You may not be able to avoid the pain and discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis, but you can help take control of the situation with one, or a combination, of the following techniques:

Heat: Applying heat to a sore area increases blood flow, decreases joint stiffness and relieves muscle spasms and can lower pain. Take a warm bath or hot shower. Apply heat to an affected area with an electric blanket or mattress pad, a hot water bottle or a warm damp towel.

Cold: Cold has a numbing effect when applied to an acutely inflamed joint. Cold can be applied using bags of ice or frozen peas wrapped in a towel or with cold gel packs designed specifically for that purpose.

TENS: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) delivers low intensity electric impulses to a sore joint via electrodes taped to the skin near the affected area. How TENS provides pain relief is not understood, although it is suspected that it releases endorphins or overrides nerve paths.

Massage: Although the beneficial effects of a massage are poorly understood, a massage can release stress, relax muscles, improve blood flow and lower discomfort in the affected areas, especially if the massage therapist is familiar with rheumatoid arthritis.

Your lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Exercise: Exercise can have many benefits, including keeping your bones, joints and heart healthy and improving muscle flexibility and strength. Physical activity can also help reduce stress. For more information about physical activity and exercising, click here.

Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet is important whether you have rheumatoid arthritis or not. Try to limit the amount of fatty, sugary and processed foods you eat. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins can help too. For more information about healthy eating, click here.

Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is always important. If you are not getting enough sleep, try to cut down on tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks, as well as the amount of alcohol you drink. Simple stretching exercises before bed may also help improve your sleep. Gentle exercise such as meditation and yoga or deep/rhythmic breathing techniques can also be effective in helping you sleep. If you aren’t sleeping well due to pain or other reasons, speak with your doctor.

Weight reduction: Weight reduction is important, since being overweight places an extra burden on weight-bearing joints such as your knees and hips. Your rheumatoid arthritis may limit the amount of exercise you can do, but it is important that you adapt your diet according to your energy needs, so you can maintain a healthy weight. If you are less active, you need to consume fewer calories. However, it is important that you do not lose out on the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly. For more information about healthy eating and exercise, click here.

Take time out to relax: Rheumatoid arthritis itself causes fatigue and the strain of dealing with pain and limited activities also can make you tired. You should take short breaks in between tasks during your daily routine. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga can also help relieve stress, which can be a trigger for RA flare-ups.

Surround yourself with support: Even if your family is supportive, joining a support group can also help, as you will be surrounded by people with RA who are dealing with the same issues you are. Joining a group will also give you the opportunity to be social and meet new people. To find a group near you, check with your local Arthritis Foundation.

Follow your treatment plan: Be sure to go to all your doctor’s appointments. Follow your doctor’s instructions regarding any medications you might be taking. If you experience side effects from medications prescribed by your doctor, please discuss your concerns with him or her.

There are many products available that can help make everyday tasks a little easier for you…

The Arthritis Society of Canada has compiled a list of arthritis-friendly products that have been designed with arthritis patients in mind. The products were tested in a variety of ways, including consulting with a panel of individuals living with arthritis, who used the products and commented on their ease of use. To view the list of arthritis-friendly products, click here.

… and also many ways you can help yourself save energy by making daily activities easier:

  • Raise the level of seats to reduce stress on hip and knee joints.
  • Grabbing or folding “reachers” are designed to help make it easier to pick up things on the ground or out of reach.
  • A walking cane can help decrease stress on hip and knee joints.
  • Use utensils that have larger grips to reduce stress on hand joints. Jar and tap openers are also useful.
  • Use a cart to carry objects.

Keeping track of your daily symptoms can be helpful in the management of your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

We recommend you complete this RA Diary every month and take it along when you visit your health care provider.

Click to download

Note: Opening and printing the RA Diary requires a current version of the free Adobe Acrobat® Reader application that can be downloaded from the Adobe® website: