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Every Step I Take

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Frazzled
    8 months ago

    This is a huge struggle for me. Not only do I have RA, but I apparently have non-diabetic neuropathy in my feet, which can cause significant burning and aching in the joint space where my heel and mid-foot meet. To be able to walk without pain is almost impossible, and standing for long periods of time is equally impossible. I’ve been told that I have the MTHFR genetic mutation, and that this is part of the issue, and so my folic acid (prevention of side effects from MTX) has been replaced by L-Methylfolate Calcium/Methylcobalamin/N-Acetyl L-Cysteine 6/2/600mg, a medical food designed to help with this. So far, nothing.

    I now realize that it is true – if your feet hurt, everything hurts, and it is likely the limping that throws other parts of my body off kilter. I see the podiatrist today, and they should start some treatments on my feet in the coming days. I’m not sure if all of this is quackery, but I am willing to try anything to keep my feet in balance, and thus my whole body.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    8 months ago

    Hey Frazzled,

    I’m so sorry that you’re contending with multiple chronic issues that are compounding one another! And yes, it is very complicated to deal with foot pain because it can throw everything off.

    I commend you for doing everything you can think to do that might help. I know that worry of “is this quackery?” but sometimes when there aren’t enough answers we have to make guinea pigs of ourselves to see if anything will work. However, it takes a lot of energy to try new treatments, especially when pain is already sucking energy away, so take a moment to know that this is a courageous act and give yourself a (gentle) pat on the back for it.

    I hope that the treatments with the podiatrist do indeed help. I welcome you to help us posted on how you’re doing if you feel so inclined. I’m thinking of you!

    Wishing you some relief,

  • jkmast1
    1 year ago

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your graceful writing here reinforces what my PT guy has been teaching me. A normal gait and a limp bring me about the same levels of pain. So why not walk normally and strengthen those affected muscles rather than letting them weaken?
    I tell myself I am the boss, not the pain. And I love sensing my body as it moves in a healthy way.
    It tires me – just like a PT workout. “Heel, toe, spring off the back foot.” Over and over again.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi jkmast1,

    Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing your perspective and your experience with PT. I love “I am the boss, not the pain”! And the “heel, toe, spring off back foot” is a helpful little mantra to repeat in our heads as we try to walk from one place to another without causing our bodies additional pain.

    Thank you for sharing,

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Hi Cyd,

    I’m so glad to found the article and comments to be helpful! Yes, living with this disease is an ongoing learning process. It has only been in the last few years (I’ve been diagnosed for 18) that I have realized how much limping messes up the rest of my body, so I really try to avoid it even though it’s so painful not to sometimes. We are all learning as we go!

    Thanks for sharing and for being in our online community!

    Gentle hugs,

  • Cyd
    11 months ago

    Thank you Tamara (and jkmast1!) not only for your helpful information, but for validating the way I frequently walk (i.e. one step/stair at a time). However, after reading your article & comment, I will work to be more aware of how I am walking and keeping my body in alignment. I’ve always done that when sitting and generally have good posture, but I’ve not consciously given attention to how I move/walk. Thanks again!

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