Complications of Getting Dressed

Complications of Getting Dressed

One of the things people without rheumatoid arthritis may be surprised by is that getting dressed with RA can be complicated! I know that I may be a special case because of the severity of my disease and joint limitations, but even when I was just starting out dressing became harder. For example, shoelaces! Ack! They got me in knots. It was a two-part problem. First I had trouble reaching my feet. Then I had trouble with my finger dexterity and strength to tie and knot them (double knots always!) well enough to stay.

When I was a kid, Velcro just came out and so sneakers with Velcro instead of laces became popular. It worked in my favor! But it still became challenging because I had increasing trouble reaching my feet. When I was older, I started using slip-on shoes. They worked, but it was always a game of having sizes lose enough to slip my feet in but tight enough that they wouldn’t fall off while I was walking! Now I have the best of both worlds: slip on shoes with elastic laces! I never have to tie them and they are flexible yet tight enough to keep my shoes on my feet.

Assistive devices for dressing: The dressing stick

One of the best assistive device tools I have is a dressing stick. I first learned about it in occupational therapy when I was a kid and ever since have always had one at my side. It does a lot of things for me, but its primary use for a long time has been helping with getting dressed. Since I can’t stand well, I put my pants on while sitting and use the stick to help pull them up by hooking it on the fabric or through a belt loop. (It’s also very handy for getting socks off, by using another hook to push on sock like a thumb would.) My dressing stick also helps me to get shirts over my head because my arm motion limits my overhead reach. I put my arms through and then use the hook to push my head through the shirt.

An assistive device for wearing socks and pulling zippers!

As long as I can remember, socks have always been a struggle. Even when I could reach my feet, I didn’t have the strength to hold a sock or pull it hard enough to cover my foot. But there’s a handy device that you can put the sock on, then push your foot through. It looks sort of like a u-shaped plastic tube with a rope on it.

Thankfully ingenious people have invented a number of devices to help with dressing. There are zipper pulls to help with zippers (makes grasping the zip handle easier), as well as buttoners to help with sliding buttons through holes.

Picking the right clothing styles

Over time I have also learned that some clothing styles are also just easier for minimizing dressing difficulties. For example, I do avoid buttons a lot. I don’t buy pants with buttons. Instead, I prefer the bar and hook closures because they are easier on my hands. When I do have blouses with buttons, I usually button them up, then put them on like an over-the-head-shirt.

I tend to buy knits and clothes that have some give to them. Sometimes they are looser, sometimes they have elastic in them. But having some flexibility in the fabrics makes it easier for me to get dressed.
Unfortunately, I do have a bunch of things I won’t wear. I just don’t want to work too hard to dress! So I don’t do tights or pantyhose. I rarely wear skirts. I don’t do tight or complicated. But even with these rules, I don’t feel too limited and find I have lots of clothing choices.

RA may make getting dressed complicated, but with my devices and style strategy I do my best to ‘make it work’!

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

Comments

View Comments (23)
  • Daniel Malito moderator
    4 weeks ago

    @kelly Oh, the things us RA patients invent and modify to help us do the things normal people take for granted. I havemodified back scratchers with duct tape, cut holes in shoes, and ripped up shirts, all in an attempt to be able to still get dressed without help. One of the things i think we ALL measure ourselves against when tying to acertain if we are losing our independence. Great article. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • MrsT
    1 month ago

    “I know that I may be a special case because of the severity of my disease and joint limitations……”

    Kelly, I think you’ll find that there any many many thousands of us out here who also have severe cases of RA with horrible joint deformities. 😉

    My best to you,
    MrsT

  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 month ago

    Hi MrsT. Thanks for writing. Kelly didn’t spell it out, but what makes her case a little unique is that she has used a wheelchair for over twenty years, which adds a layer of complexity to dressing. However, the point of going back to even before then is that, as you say, these difficulties are pretty universal in the RA community. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • MrsT
    4 weeks ago

    My apologies. I didn’t mean for it to come across snarky like it did..lol

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 month ago

    I find the right clothing styles is the most important part of my dressing. Anything tight is difficult and so loose is the name of the game in my closet.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    1 month ago

    Athleisure (is that the term?) for me which thankfully isn’t a far cry from my younger days when I only wore cargo pants and sweatshirts!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    4 weeks ago

    I always knew I was athletic in an odd sort of way.

  • Mamawsherbear
    4 months ago

    Oh boy getting dressed thats a fun one i buy alot of the tshirt type dresses they pull right over your head i avoid anything that has buttons its just easier for me im raising a granddaughter shes 9 now so she helps me when doing laundry like buttoning my hubbys shirts so they dont fall off the hangers and i buy leggings they are pretty easy and lots of longsleeve tshirts dress them up or dress them down and slip on shoes are great ,crocs (i know they arent pretty but oh so easy on the feet i have mortons neromas in both feet so they have really saved me and in warm weather Nike slides or Victoria secret has some great ones with memory foam (No more Nike for me lol

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thanks for sharing all these great tips Mamawsherbear. Really helpful stuff here–like easy pullover clothes, slip on shoes, and more. Thankfully, its become easier to find lots of different kinds of clothes and styles. Yay for big stores and online shopping! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • mcadwell
    4 months ago

    These are good things to know. I like my pull on yoga pants. As my RA gets worse I wear pull on pants with elastic waists more and more. Sometimes it’s just too hard to put a pull-over-the-head shirt though, so I do have button up shirts. Don’t know what I’ll do when my hands stop working well enough for those too. Le sigh

  • alkatrios
    1 month ago

    My hands have become worse, wrists, elbows and shoulders. I can’t do it any more by myself. It’s one of the worst parts of my disability; the use of my upper extremities .

  • deborah25
    1 month ago

    Hi, yes I am finding that recently, my hands, wrists and elbows really hurt and I struggle with day to day tasks. . Makes me very sad and frustrated. Just started a new job and I love it. But I don’t think I can stay because it’s heavy on hand and wrist joints (ward Clerk at hospital) I sympathise with you x

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 months ago

    Hi mcadwell, If buttons get too hard there actually is a tool that can help called a buttoner. Between stretchy clothes and tools, we’ve got lots of options. Take care! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Mrstaniak
    4 months ago

    I can so relate to this article

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thanks! Hope it helped! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • ktandtm
    5 months ago

    I would love to know if anyone has suggestions on bras? I can’t get sports bras over my head and bras that fasten in the front I haven’t found one the my breast don’t spill out over the top. In the winter months I can wear a hoodie and no one will notice but right now I have to ask someone for help. Since my kids have gone back to school I have no one at home to help. Also anyone know of devices to help wash hair? I am unable to get arms above my head now. Sure hoping my new medication changes things. Best wishes to all.

  • alkatrios
    1 month ago

    I used to pull my bra up from the floor, hook onto my arms and pull up. It has helped my Aunt and I for many years, unfortunately not now, but you could try it

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    5 months ago

    Hi ktandtm, I have a sneaky bra trick that you may want to try. I use bras with an underwire so put them on with the clasp in front, then swing the bra around to my front, put my arms in and lift the bra up in place. For hair washing, I also have limited arm mobility so use a “bendable back scrubber” tool (here’s one kind: https://www.performancehealth.com/reach-n-scrub). I bend it into the shape I want, put shampoo on it, then rub my hair for washing. Hope these tricks may be helpful. Even more, hope the new medication helps you to feel better. Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    5 months ago

    Thanks for reaching out, ktandtm!! I hope others chime in with their experiences because I am rather curious myself. I just stopped wearing them and wear stretchy sports bras when the occassion for a bra surfaces.

    I also don’t wash my hair too often (once a week). When I first trained my hair for this I got really oily very quickly but soon that subsided.

    I hope your new medications work! What are you taking? All the best, Monica

  • suann
    11 months ago

    I too, have trouble dressing ..My hands are crippled so its hard to fasten my bra or even pull my pants or shorts up no matter the material..I have the gadget for socks, I haven’t been able to wear shoes for many years, I wear slip ons and in winter I have snow boots a size bigger.. If I need to go out for appt I have one of my kids or grandkids help with dressing..all this people take for granted I know I did…who would have thunked it..

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    10 months ago

    Thanks for sharing! It’s good that you have some loved ones who can be helpers! Cheers, Kelly

  • Carla Kienast
    11 months ago

    I love this post. Several years ago I ordered a dozen of the cheap bamboo “back scratchers” which are basically a stick with a rounded “hand” or hook at the end. These are great for helping get dressed, reaching things, pulling things up, etc. When I made the difficult decision that I could no longer work full time, part of that decision was the fact that getting ready in the morning took a major portion of my daily “spoons”. By the time I drove to work, I no longer had any energy for the job. I find I hate shopping for clothes because the very act of trying them on wears me out! Your tips for easy dressing are great — thanks for sharing.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    10 months ago

    Thanks Carla! I too hate clothes shopping because it is just darn exhausting. Now I mostly shop online. It’s nice for two reasons: I have figured out my sizes at most places I shop so can generally get that part mostly right (with some failures). Also, it’s nice to pace myself when trying on the orders at home! That way I can take my time and even do it across a few days. Phew! Best, Kelly

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