Dancing It Out

Dancing It Out

Those who have watched the tv show Grey’s Anatomy are likely familiar with the phrase “dance it out.” When the stress of being a surgeon in a hospital where calamity and scandal are the norm, the characters often take to their living room or bedroom floors to boogie their blues away.

This is not what I mean by “dancing it out.” (Although the fun and exercise of dancing can indeed be excellent stress relief, in addition to being an incredibly effective tactic for getting my family back to a happy place if my husband, kids and I are having a cranky moment). No, when I say “dance it out,” I’m referring to the morning stiffness and fatigue that plague those of us living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

“Dancing it out”, not just a fantasy scenario?

I know that some people’s reaction will be, “I wish I could ‘dance it out’ but my body is in way too much pain for that.” My response is that I hear you, as my body is often in too much pain to dance as well. However, before you dismiss this suggestion as a fantasy scenario, read on.

My least favorite time of day is its start. While I would love to be one of those “top of the morning” early bird types, waking up is often painful, both literally and figuratively. One of the hallmarks of this disease is morning stiffness, in which our joints, having been relatively still during the night, are more swollen and stiff than at other times of the day when we are more active. Morning stiffness is one of those “RA catch-22s”: morning stiffness makes it hard to move, but movement is what makes morning stiffness dissipate. This symptom is not going to go away until our bodies are moving, but morning stiffness makes one want to stay in bed.

In addition to morning stiffness, the fatigue caused by rheumatoid arthritis can feel like an anchor weighing one down to the mattress. Sometimes when I try to explain that I’m fatigued others will say something along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m really tired too because I stayed up late last night.” I’ve also stayed up late at night, and that exhaustion is completely different than the fatigue of RA. For a person who has never experienced fatigue caused by a chronic health condition, my best comparison would be the heaviness they may have felt while having the flu or recuperating from surgery. However, even that’s not the same, as I’ve typically felt groggy in those circumstances, whereas with RA fatigue I feel flat, numb, and frankly, stupid. Thoughts come slower, my body feels weighted down, each movement feels like I’m pushing against the density of water rather than air, and all I want to do is lie down. No amount of sleep makes fatigue go away, it only makes it less excruciating.

Did I mention RA makes it hard to get out of bed?

So what is a person faced with fatigue and morning stiffness as well as responsibilities such a work, family, housework, and errands to do? Well, this RA Warrior has taken to dancing.

On a bad day, “dancing” may be nothing more than cranking up some energetic music while standing in the steam of a hot shower, waiting for my joints to loosen. On a so-so day “dancing” can mean bouncing around a bit as I make coffee to the beat of a lively song. And, on those sought-after good days that can sometimes feel like the holy grail of RA, dancing can actually mean having a song-length solo dance in the middle of my bedroom floor.

Music for stiff mornings

I have a “Morning” playlist I started a few years ago in an effort to blast through the morning haze of stiffness and fatigue with music. While some may prefer a more gentle entrance into the day, gentle will mean I can’t make it to work on time, as I need the charge of auditory stimulation as much as I need a cup of strong coffee each morning. The songs on my playlist all serve one function: to get me moving. To start each day I pick up my phone, tell Siri to “shuffle ‘Morning’ playlist,” and then gradually increase the volume as I increase my movement. I may start with some ankle and wrist rolls while still in bed, followed by straightening and bending my knees several times. Then when I roll out of bed I add some hip circles and easy stretches. The beat of the music encourages both my body and my mind to shake off slumber and start moving.

A couple months ago I had friends over, and not wanting to figure out what music to play, I opted to have my “Morning” playlist (which has grown over the three years since I created it from about 10 songs to more than 100) playing on a speaker. A friend said, “I like this mix. What is it?” When I told her it was the “Morning” playlist I listen to every day as dawn breaks, she said, “This is what you listen to in the morning?!” Perhaps it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, or coffee rather, for the start of the day, but not everyone is contending with the symptoms I face each morning.

The only way to live well in spite of this disease is to pull out every tool in the toolbox, figure out which ones work for us, and then keep using them. For me, moving to fast, upbeat music has become one of those tools. And on those glorious good days when I am actually able to really dance to a song before heading out the door, it feels like a celebration of life, movement, and hope.

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.


View Comments (10)
  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment, Penelope! It sounds like you are dealing with the changes caused by RA with fortitude. I’m glad you’ve found ways to stay active, in spite of ballroom dancing no longer being a good option. Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective!

  • kat-elton
    1 year ago

    I love this!!! Music soothes the soul for sure, and I’ve used it to help me feel better emotionally but never thought about using it to get me going physically. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hey Kat-Elton, I’m so glad you found this helpful! Have a wonderful day, Tamara

  • PKAT
    1 year ago

    Hi Tamara – I love this idea. My RA is not so advanced as some of the cases I read about here. I recently joined an exercise class with the hopes of getting a bit stronger and realize that I can’t do anything with any real impact…just lifting and placing my foot back down can sometimes get my ankle going. I never finished the class, but realized how much I do miss moving around freely. I am going to try your idea. If nothing else, at least I will be in a good mood after some upbeat music! Thanks for sharing.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hey PKAT, Thanks so much for reaching out with your comment! Yes, I hear you on the impact. I am in the same boat – any exercise with much impact is not my friend. My go-to exercises are yoga, power walking, swimming, and biking. These can still cause some temporary discomfort, but are the best I’ve found, and long-term they do help lower my level of disease activity. And morning movement (and music!) helps loosen me up and feel a little more ready to face the day. Thanks again for sharing, Tamara

  • 2mra
    1 year ago

    I like this topic Tamara, especially about the dancing. It was a great way to help keep my blood sugars down since I was little, then I noticed it helped a lot for my RA/RD pain and stiffness from early on. I also liked the fast music that I could do by myelf since my Hubby doesn’t like dancing.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t danced in several years. Firstly, I fractured my foot just by walking across the floor(I had just woken up). Suppossedly a stress fracture from RA/RD. I do not have Osteoporosis yet. (Thank God and touch wood) but I have had RA/RD for a long time. Then I had a THR due to RA in April and a TKR due to Osteoarthritis last week. So I’m shying away from dancing from now on.

    I do hope that you get to enjoy your dancing for many, many years to come. Thanks for the post! 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks for sharing 2mra! I’m sorry that your dancing days have been in your rearview mirror for a while now. Living with RA/RD involves layers of grief, and losing the ability to do loved activities is certainly one of those layers. In spite of that, it seems as though you’ve maintained a positive perspective, which is admirable and impressive. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts, and I hope you will continue to do so any time you feel so inclined.

    Wishing you all the best,

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    Takin Care of Business
    Twist and Shout
    Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher
    Twistin’ the Night Away
    Me and Baby Brother
    Love Shack
    Green Onions
    Move on Up
    Dancing in the Street
    Pinball wizard – Elton John Version

    See your list jsut got bigger.

  • Penelope
    1 year ago

    Hi Tamara. Great article. I ball room danced for many many years and thinking back I often wondered about the pain in my feet, sometimes my hips, ankles etc. But I wasn’t diagnosed with RA until very recently. Now things make sense. I don’t ballroom dance anymore but I do dance around my kitchen, do yoga in the mornings and sometimes even make it to the gym before work, crank up the tunes and give it all I got on the treadmill. Sometimes all I got ain’t that much, but you’re absolutely right. The movement helps. The music elevates my mood.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks so much for these suggestions! These are awesome – thank you!

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