Full Body Kegels: Staying Active with Rheumatoid Arthritis

#RAblog Week is a seven day event from September 21-27, 2015. The brainchild of Rick Phillips, the goal of this week is to raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis and build community. Hop on over to the RADiabetes site to learn more about #RABlog Week and find links to other participants.For Day 5 of #RABlog Week, we were asked to share how we stay active. 

“It’s important that you stay active.”

We’ve all heard it. I bet every single doctor you’ve ever seen for anything related to your RA has at some point mentioned how important it is that you move your body. And it is — the words “use it or lose it” applies with extra force to this disease. Another factor is that “motion is lotion,” to quote my friend Britt (a.k.a. Hurtblogger). Once you get moving, you’ll find that it gets easier, and may even reduce pain.

The problem is that doctors never tell you how to stay active with a body that hurts. They just tell you to do so and send you on your way.

Which is not helpful at all.

The next time a medical professional tells you that you need to stay active, ask them how. They probably don’t know, because doctors specialize in illnesses. What you need is someone who specializes in rehabilitation and teaching people how to move better. So ask your doctor for a referral to a physiotherapist — or physical therapist, as they are called south of the border. A PT will be able to help you find ways of staying active, without putting undue stress on your joints. They’ll be able to help you walk better, and find ways of managing pain.

RA has wrecked me to the point that I use a wheelchair and I have so much damage that any kind of exercise sends me into a flare. So I have developed a bit of a smartass response to the inevitable question of how I stay active. When someone asks me this, I reply “my life is a range of motion exercise.” Which invariably makes them laugh.

It’s also true. Merely navigating through my life, making tea, brushing my teeth, getting lunch, taking care of the cat, etc., all involve range of motion exercises, as well as other ways of staying active. Several years ago, the team of writers on HealthCentral’s RA site did a video showing how we found a way of moving our bodies with very different levels of RA. My part of the video is all about range of motion.

Moving around in your house, puttering with chores counts. During bad times with RA, remember that.

Another tip for those of us who can’t move much is to tense your muscles when you’re lying down or sitting, watching TV. It turns them on — not in the naughty the way, but in the on-off way. Tightening your core when you move your torso, will over time help build strength. I call this approach Full-Body Kegels.

There are many ways of staying active, no matter how severe your RA is.


Unknown said…
Awesome outlook at how to stay "active" ....well said!!
k said…
I just figured out I've been walking wrong for decades. I'm pretty amazed at what a difference it makes!
Anonymous said…
Lene: I have somehow missed the RA week activities but have really enjoyed your contributions (as I do all your posts). And yes, a 16 lb cat is a great activity builder!
Elizabeth said…
I've started doing Tai Chi for Arthritis (DVDs available at Arthritis Foundation website if you look hard...). On days I can't stand on my feet, I do it seated. When I can stand, I do it standing. When I can't do either of those, I try to at least move my muscles some.

Sometimes, even this little bit of activity will send me into a 2-3 day flareup of pain, swelling, and stiffness. But I persevere as best I can. Having a service dog helps. He requires daily exercise, feeding, and grooming. And I have to do that - it is on me. That, too, helps keep me active - and also sends me into "overdo city" from time to time. I've learned to pace myself somewhat.

Cheers, Lene!
You are a breath of fresh air!


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