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Arthritis: Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Living with rheumatoid arthritis can mean living with chronic pain, fatigue, and joint stiffness. Thousands of people have benefited from developing and following plans to help them manage their symptoms. You and your doctor can create a medical treatment plan that may include medicine and other therapies. Early medical treatment can help you avoid disabling joint changes and chronic pain.

Besides following your medical treatment plan, there are several steps you can take to maintain your normal life and activities. This is often called self-management. The first steps include:

  • Learning as much as you can about rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Learning ways to reduce joint pain, fatigue, and stiffness.
  • Taking an active role in managing your rheumatoid arthritis.

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Rheumatoid arthritis is going to be big part of your life, perhaps for years—perhaps from now on. If you become involved in the day-to-day management of your health, you stand a better chance of maintaining the activities that fill your life. If you take on this job the same way you would take on a new career position, knowing it will require daily learning and practicing and that there will be setbacks as well as successes, you are on your way to managing your rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Knowing what you will physically be able to do tomorrow, next year, and beyond, starts with learning what rheumatoid arthritis is and what is happening inside your body.
  • The next step is learning what you can do and what your limits are.
  • The third step is forming and following a self-management plan.

Test Your Knowledge

An important step in my management plan for rheumatoid arthritis is learning as much as possible about the disease and what it does.


Early medicine-based treatment for rheumatoid arthritis may limit joint damage and help you to avoid permanent disability. But even with that successful outcome, the disease may be active for years. During that time, and in the periods of time when the disease is not active (in remission), you will want to continue with the activities that make life complete. An effective treatment plan includes both exercise and creative ways to get projects done as an important part of your daily routine.

Test Your Knowledge

Having rheumatoid arthritis means that I have to stop doing aerobics, cleaning house, or other active routines.


Understand your arthritis:

  • Learn about your body and what is happening to it with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Learn about your doctors, the recommended medicines, and what they can do for you.
  • Find out what can improve your health, such as losing weight or starting a flexibility exercise program.

Learn how to cope with chronic pain, fatigue, and stiffness:

  • Experiment and learn what can help you feel better and what makes things worse. Some people can write without pain while others can't, and the same goes for walking and aerobics and other physical tasks or activities.
  • Learn basic skills, such as ways to use your body that protect stiff areas, that will help you continue activities.
  • Explore the use of splints, canes, and other assistive devices that can help you avoid discomfort while staying active.

Take an active role in managing your arthritis:

  • Gather information about rheumatoid arthritis and the steps you can take to stay active.
  • Work with your team of doctors, friends, and family to set up a self-management plan.
  • Set goals to practice your coping and strengthening skills and incorporate these goals into your life.
  • Follow through with your self-management plan on a day-to-day basis.

Test Your Knowledge

Various routines, assistive devices, and flexibility exercises have been developed to help people with rheumatoid arthritis cope with pain and stiffness.


To learn more about how to set up a self-management plan for rheumatoid arthritis, contact your doctor.

For more information on arthritis self-management plans, the following resources are available:


Arthritis Foundation
P.O. Box 7669
Atlanta, GA 30357
Phone: 1-800-283-7800
Web Address:

The Arthritis Foundation provides grants to help find a cure, prevention methods, and better treatment options for arthritis. It also provides a large number of community-based services nationwide to make living with arthritis easier, including self-help courses; water- and land-based exercise classes; support groups; home study groups; instructional videotapes; public forums; free educational brochures and booklets; the national, bimonthly consumer magazine Arthritis Today; and continuing education courses and publications for health professionals.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), National Institutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675
Phone: 1-877-22-NIAMS (1-877-226-4267) toll-free
Phone: (301) 495-4484
Fax: (301) 718-6366
TDD: (301) 565-2966
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) is a governmental institute that serves the public and health professionals by providing information, locating other information sources, and participating in a national federal database of health information. NIAMS supports research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases and supports the training of scientists to carry out this research.

The NIAMS website provides health information referrals to the NIAMS Clearinghouse, which has information packages about diseases.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerNancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last RevisedJune 4, 2012

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