10 Tips for Building and Maintaining Energy with Rheumatoid Arthritis

by Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate

A 2011 study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases stated that 70 percent of people with RA experience a healthy dollop of fatigue, sometimes a level of exhaustion as profound as in chronic fatigue syndrome. It can make it impossible to do your job, take care of your family or just get through the day. Here are some tips for building and managing your energy.

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Get treatment

One of the best ways to combat RA-related fatigue is to treat the disease. Often one of the first signs that the medication's working is that you start getting more energy. Even if you're not able to fully go into remission, finding a medication that reduces your RA symptoms will help reduce your fatigue.

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Pain management

Pain makes you tired and uncontrolled pain can make you exhausted. Having good pain management is an important part of improving the quality of your life, as well as increasing your energy levels. Many of us feel hesitant about taking pain meds, waiting until we can't stand it anymore. Taking your pain meds as prescribed on a regular basis will ensure you have less pain.

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Give your body the rest it needs

Getting enough sleep is essential for people who live with RA. Go to bed when you're tired. If you stay up past midnight despite having to get up at 6:30 a.m., it's bound to contribute to your fatigue. Nap when you can. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, you may want to talk to your doctor about sleep aids.

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Proper sleep environment

The quest for energy starts with restful sleep. Make sure your bed and your bedroom are conducive to sleep. This can include darkness, quiet and the right temperature. Make sure you have good sleep posture by having a supportive mattress. You can also use pillows to support joints and limbs that hurt.

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Get a checkup

Ask your doctor to check your iron, vitamin D and B12 levels. Being deficient in these can contribute to fatigue. Vitamin D can also help improve your pain levels and many people find that adding more vitamin D to their daily routine can make them feel better in general. Also ask them to check your thyroid - fatigue is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism.

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Look into other energy boosting supplements

In addition to iron, vitamin D and B12, there are a number of supplements that can help boost your energy. Discuss this with your doctor or a licensed doctor of naturopathic medicine before diving into a supplement-buying spree. Make sure none of them interact with medication you're already taking.

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Manage your energy

Working well past your limits every day is a recipe for disaster, leading to flares and having to sit quietly on the couch and heal for days. Doing less allows you to still have energy left over at the end of the day to do what you need to the next day as well. Learning to manage your energy can take a while, but has a huge payoff in the long run.

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Exercise seems ironic when you can barely get through the day. However, being as fit as possible can help build energy. Exercise doesn't have to be rigorous. Doing gentle range of motion exercises counts, as does light swimming or a walk. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who can help you put together exercises that won't strain your joints and which you can do, even on bad days.

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Talk to other people

Sometimes the quieter you are, the more tired you get. Talking to friends and family can be very helpful. You can share your frustration and in so doing, feel the burden lightened. Talking about things that are funny or interesting can be invigorating and if you do so on the phone, you don't have to get up from the couch!

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Do what nourishes you

Activities you enjoy don't just take away energy, they also give you energy. Sitting in the sunshine can help you connect to beauty and joy. Engage in a hobby that makes you happier and thereby give you more energy (just remember to work within your limits!). Feed your soul - it'll make you feel better.

Lene  Andersen, MSW
Meet Our Writer
Lene Andersen, MSW

Lene Andersen is an author, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. Lene (pronounced Lena) has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was four years old and uses her experience to help others with chronic illness. She has written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Lene serves on HealthCentral's Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral on Facebook page, facebook.com/rahealthcentral. She is also one of HealthCentral's Live Bold, Live Now heroes — watch her incredible journey of living with RA.