7 Tips to Care for Your Joints When You Have Psoriatic Arthritis
Pain relief for psoriatic arthritis can be a complex topic. Even though there are numerous treatments for the condition, people with psoriatic arthritis may still have periods of flares when it becomes extremely painful to do just about anything.
Psoriatic arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis that can cause psoriasis plaques on the skin as well as joint swelling, stiffness, and pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition commonly affects joints in the hands, feet, wrists, ankles, and knees, which can make it difficult and painful for many people—especially during a flare—to do everything from washing their hair to lifting a coffee mug.
Because of this, many people with psoriatic arthritis find ways to care for their joints so that they can keep living life. Of course, medications are a big part of finding pain relief for psoriatic arthritis, but making lifestyle modifications can also help you care for your joints day-to-day. Here are seven practices that people with psoriatic arthritis as well as doctors who treat the disease recommend.
1. Look for items that help make everyday tasks easier.
Even maneuvering your hand to brush your teeth can be really painful when you have psoriatic arthritis, says Samardeep Gupta, M.D., rheumatology professor at the University of Michigan and co-director of the Derm Rheum Collaborative Clinic at VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. If you can, he recommends using an electric toothbrush instead of a more labor-intensive manual toothbrush. And you don’t need to purchase an expensive model to get a good cleaning. For example, the highly-rated Arm & Hammer Spinbrush Pro + Deep Clean costs $10 on Amazon. Shoe horns are another tool that many people with psoriatic arthritis find helpful, according to Dr. Gupta. The Vive Long Handled Shoe Horn is popular on Amazon because it can be used while standing or sitting ($9, Amazon).
Sarah K., 35, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2009, says she primarily uses light plastic or stainless steel tumblers instead of glass because they’re easier to lift. (She also uses cups with lids and straws to potentially avoid spilling.) Similarly, if you have a hard time using a coffee mug, adding an ergonomic second handle like the Vivi Duo Cup Holder ($20, ArthritisSupplies.com), can make your cup easier to grip.
2. Buy pre-chopped ingredients and meal kits if possible.
For Gemma H., 35, preparing meals come with numerous challenges. Everything from chopping food to opening cans and lifting pans can be painful, Gemma, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2012, says. To help make cooking as easy as possible, she buys pre-chopped vegetables and microwaveable bags of rice, vegetables, and ready-to-heat meals. Food delivery kits that come with pre-chopped ingredients are another option for people who enjoy cooking but want to minimize how much they need to use their hands. These types of semi-prepared foods are generally more expensive, but they can make meal prep easier if you are able to purchase them. Otherwise, you may want to prepare and freeze several meals on days when you have minimal pain to eat on days when you’re not up for cooking.
3. Use voice-activated software if you can.
Chances are, you spend a good amount of time tapping away on your phone or computer to communicate with friends, look at the weather, or scroll through Instagram. For people with psoriatic arthritis, these activities can exacerbate wrist and hand strain. “When my hands are especially stiff and swollen, I utilize dictation software on my phone and computer,” Sarah tells SELF.
If you have a smartphone, you can simply use the dictation program built into your phone to send texts. (The exact way to do this varies depending on the phone, so you may want to research directions for your specific model online.) When using Google Docs, you can search for the “Tools” heading in the toolbar at the top and select “Voice Typing.” Newer computers and cell phones also have voice recognition assistants—Siri, Cortana, Alexa, etc.—that allow you to tap a button and then speak about whatever it is you want to search for on the internet with minimal hand involvement.
4. Consider adding heat therapy to your self-care plan.
Amanda B., 29, has relied on heat therapy for pain relief for psoriatic arthritis since her diagnosis in 2019. (Warm temperatures can help your muscles relax and relieve joint pain and swelling, according to the Cleveland Clinic.) “Heat from a heating pad or an electric blanket help a lot, especially for my spine and hips,” Amanda tells SELF. (One SELF staffer likes the Thermophore MaxHeat Arthritis Pad, which is available on Amazon for $62.) If you already have a self-care plan, adding heat to your ritual can make the practice enjoyable and help you stay consistent. For example, Amanda ends her evenings by taking a relaxing, warm bath using rose petals, bath bombs, and Epsom salt. “This definitely makes a difference in my pain and stiffness levels the following morning,” Amanda explains. Dr. Gupta says many of his patients like dipping their hands in warm paraffin wax, which helps alleviate pain and also feels like a mini spa treatment. To be as safe as possible, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about how to properly perform wax baths at home. (Wax shouldn’t be hotter than 125 degrees Fahrenheit or be used on broken skin, according to Michigan Medicine.)
5. Explore acupuncture if it’s feasible for you.
Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles (about the width of a strand of hair) into your skin to stimulate specific points on your body, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Generally, the practice is considered safe as long as you see an experienced practitioner who uses sterile needles.
While there is not a wealth of research showing that acupuncture may specifically help reduce psoriatic arthritis pain, anecdotally, many people say it helps with their condition. “Some patients really derive a lot of relief from acupuncture,” Rebecca Haberman, M.D., clinical instructor of rheumatology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, tells SELF. If you want to add acupuncture to your treatment plan, know that it will likely take more than one session to experience any noticeable effects, according to the Mayo Clinic. Before scheduling your first appointment, you may want to ask your physician for their opinion as well as referrals to licensed acupuncturists.
6. Try low-impact exercises when you want to be active.
There are a lot of good reasons to exercise when you have psoriatic arthritis. “Exercise can help relieve some of that joint pain and stiffness that people with psoriatic arthritis experience,” Dr. Haberman says. That’s because keeping your muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong can help take some pressure off of your joints, which helps with the pain. Regular exercise also keeps your heart healthy—which is important because people with psoriatic arthritis have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, Dr. Haberman explains. However, doing a lot of very high-impact activities such as running can put extra stress on your joints and make you feel worse, she says. Understandably, if you really enjoy high-intensity interval training or running, this can be difficult to accept. But with time and some experimentation, you may find ways to balance running and lower-impact exercises or even discover new activities that you love. “In my 12 years since diagnosis, I have become more and more comfortable with my body and knowing its capacity,” Sarah says. Rather than following a specific fitness plan, Sarah focuses on moving her body in a way that feels good each day—whether that’s dancing, walking outside, swimming, or stretching.
For Amanda, hopping on her elliptical machine every day helps relieve some of her hip pain and helps prevent gelling, which happens when your joints stiffen up from lack of movement. “When I experience gelling in my knees, it makes them feel like they’re full of liquid and it’s difficult to walk without falling. Doing gentle and low-impact cardio helps prevent this for me on most days,” she says.
7. Know when to go easy and take breaks.
This advice sounds simple, but it can be hard to follow at times. “I have learned over 10 years of chronic illness that nothing is worth putting yourself in more pain for, despite what society would have you think,” Gemma says. “If I push myself to do tasks I’m not well enough for, it simply pushes back my recovery and extends the length of time I am in pain.” Of course, you might not always have the option to delay certain tasks or to call out sick when you have trouble getting out of bed. In those circumstances, try not to judge yourself too harshly if you can’t do things as well as you would like. If you have a strong support system, then you may want to consider asking your family and friends for help with running errands or cooking meals if you can.
- 9 Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms You Should Know
- Psoriatic Arthritis Medication: What You Need to Know
- 6 People With Psoriatic Arthritis on What to Ask a Doctor Post-Diagnosis