Every Step I Take

Many people walk through the world without thought. They may notice a crack in the sidewalk or a large root in a trail, but they aren’t consciously aware of how their bodies are moving through space, how the individual parts of our bodies are working in concert to propel us forward. Living with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) changes that.

Unless I’m having a really good RA/RD day, I am conscious of most movements of my body. I hold a full cup of water with my wrist straight and my elbow and bicep doing much of the leverage so that my wrists and fingers aren’t overly strained. I sit up straight at the computer with my shoulders over my hips so as to not put undue burden on my back, hips, and SI joints. And when it comes to walking, I ensure that my body is as supported as possible.

Carrying my body with thought

If I carry my body without thought, I tend to move in ways that can throw my body out of alignment. This uneven distribution of the weight of my body puts extra burden on certain parts, which can lead to painful, inflamed joints. I noticed that while standing I had a tendency to rock back on my feet and tilt my hips outward slightly, so walking in alignment begins with first standing upright. I try to keep my body stacked straight to the sky, knees over hips, hips over knees, shoulders over hips. I keep both feet pointed forward, as any pigeon-toeing or penguin-walking will throw my body out of alignment and wreak havoc on my hips. For years I have practiced walking with the top of my head reaching toward the sky and my feet facing forward.

Reteaching one's body to move

It can be difficult to re-teach one’s body to move, but with conscious effort I’ve changed how I carry my body. Yet, when I’m in a flare it’s very difficult to maintain these newer habits. My body wants to cradle the hurting parts and put as little strain on them as possible. However, if I limp this too will throw my body out of alignment and cause my body to hurt in even more places the next day. As much as I might want to limp, on the hard days when I can bear not to, I try to keep as normal a gait as possible.

Instead of limping, I walk gingerly. I am hyper aware of any uneven surfaces, any tiny obstacles in my path that could cause a misstep and jar my body. I take stairs slowly and one at a time, bringing both feet to the same step before ascending the next one. Speed disappears, as the pain slows me down and I want to decrease the shock absorption of each step on my body.

RA/RD causes so many changes in every day life, great and small. There are countless things I pay attention to that I’m certain I would not if pain and fatigue were not factors in my day-to-day existence. Being consciously aware of how I hold my body and being aware of every step I take during a flare indicate the profound impact of this disease on how I move through this world.

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