Recently Mom asked me to pull her electric toothbrush apart so she could replace the batteries. Normally she does this herself, but she broke her right wrist in late June. The task needed two moderately strong hands.

So I grasped both ends and pulled. Nothing. Hmm. I got a better grip on it and tried again. Still nothing.

Both of my wrists and the knuckles on both hands began grumbling angrily, but I tried it yet again—and again, without luck. The battery end of this gadget was just plain stuck. I set it down and rubbed my hands absently, resting them while I tried to work out another option for opening the toothbrush up. Maybe I could work the flat end of an eyeglass screwdriver between the two parts?

Oh! Your hands!” Mom said, noticing as I rubbed them. “I forgot, honey. Don’t worry about it. I’ll do it.”

Well, that was brave, but both knew she couldn’t, actually. “They’re OK, Mom, really,” I said. “Let me try one more time.” Determined, I put some real muscle into it—and suddenly, the end popped off. “There!” I said with a grin, and handed the two parts of the toothbrush back to her so she could switch out the batteries. Then, I put the thing back together again. And wouldn’t you know—it was another maximum effort, but pushing this time instead of pulling. In the end, though, I won.

Mom thanked me. “I’ve just gotten so my teeth don’t feel clean anymore if I use a manual toothbrush,” she said. I agreed, telling her I feel the same way. She went off to polish her choppers, and I went into the other bathroom, shut the door, sat down on the toilet seat, and bent over my shrieking, throbbing hands, rocking.

Three hours later, both my hands ached dully at rest and jabbed me viciously when I moved my wrists or fingers. The pain, however, was still only at about the middle of my personal scale (zero being a total lack of pain and 10 being OMG-just-hack- them-off-now pain). I could still type carefully and do other tasks that didn’t require a tight grip.

My hands had been much, much worse. Thank goodness for small favors.

I never know for sure what will trigger a mean flare. When my hands—or let’s face it, any of my other random bodily joints—start aching and twinging, even at a low level, I almost always look for a cause. I need one, you know? It helps me stay sane.

So, if I’m near my laptop, the first thing I’ll check is the barometric pressure. Sometimes, if it’s high, that’ll cause a flare. But … OK… so can a low pressure, or a barometer that’s changing rapidly. Barometric pressure changes are exceedingly normal, though. I’m honest, whether they’re a good predictor of my rheumatoid pain or not depends mostly on how determined I am to blame them for it.

I’ve always tended to hurt more when the weather is hot, too. Here in California, our dry, hot weather generally coincides with high-pressure areas and a high-reading barometer.

But in a big switch on me, last winter and early spring, low-pressure areas and low barometric numbers made me hurt a lot, too. So much for my go-to explanation for why my joints ache.

Other flare triggers? Sometimes, stressing and/or straining my joints might mean more pain for 24 to 48 hours. Or not. I can’t really predict it. And I do tend to hurt more when I’ve lost sleep—though generally, pain is the only reason I lose sleep. Insomnia just makes it worse.

But not every time.

Today my hands hurt like a, well, you know. I’ve no real idea why. How about this: my rheuma-dragon is angry, so he’s gnawing on my knuckles. Why are you laughing? It’s as good an explanation for a flare as any other, right?

Soon, I’ll stop typing and draw for a while. Gripping my art pens and colored pencils often hurts my hands, but I find that art’s total-concentration, meditation-type-qualities help distract me from most of my pain for extended periods. (I sometimes pay for it later, but isn’t everything in life a give-and-take? To me, it’s worthwhile.)

Finally, I’m actively telling myself that this flare won’t get worse (possibly true) and that it won’t last forever (because I know they never, ever do). I’m a tough little bird and I’ll get through it. I always do, somehow. And I’ll only be a little bit resentful that if this flare does get worse because I’ve weaned off opioids, I can’t just take a pill.

Instead, I’ll simply wait it out. I’ll use my pain-coping tools: heat, ice, distracting myself, listening to myself breathe, and finally, being grateful to be alive in this beautiful world right now. And yes, I’ll hope for the best.

*I’ve always loved gray skies, cold temperatures, and rain. I know, it’s weird, but I can’t help it.

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 (16)
  • tckrd
    2 months ago

    Your eye doctor is right. The stop gaps don’t work. I hope you will listen to your body and go back to the rheumatologist.

  • zanda1000
    3 months ago

    The weather, and mental stress are flare triggers for me. I had to stop family members, and some friends from bringing me their problems, because the stress from dealing with their problems, and mine brought on flares. So, now I put myself first, and don’t listen anymore, and I’ve been doing great ever since.

  • Wren moderator author
    3 months ago

    Hi, zanda1000,
    You’re smart to recognize what your triggers are and take positive steps to care for yourself first. RA can be difficult to cope with–especially over the holidays.
    I hope your weather and your stress levels have taken a turn for the better. Thanks for commenting!

  • Alesandra Bevilacqua moderator
    3 months ago

    Thank you for sharing with us, zanda1000. I’m glad you recognized what was happening and now put yourself first! – Alesandra (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • julienne
    11 months ago

    I am so discouraged! I tested positive for rheumatoid factor and have multiple symptoms of RA. My rheumatologist prescribed plaquenil. I tried three times to take it and each time had a strong flu-like reaction that lasted several days. The doctor said next step is methatrexate. Maybe I was / am in denial but wasn’t real keen to go on methatrexate so the doctor kind of dismissed me, didn’t make a follow up appointment and I haven’t been back since. That was last June, almost a year. And what a year it has been. I do take diclofenac and my PCP prescribed parafon forte. Neither seems to do a darned thing for me. Every day I feel like I have slid down a little deeper into constant pain and stiffness. I don’t even know what to do or try next. Don’t know if I really do or do not have RA. My ophthalmologist says I better get back to the rheumatologist because I have had uveitis and severe dry eye. The Restasis helps marginally with plugs in my tear ducts. I go to the eye doc every three months and seems to be worse every time. I’m miserable and don’t know what to think, what to believe or what to do.

  • pardyfalcone
    12 months ago

    My flare-ups seem to be getting worse. I am having one now and it’s the worse ever. My joints don’t just hurt anymore during a flare, my muscles do as well, and I now suffer from palamar erythema during flares, which is the inflammation of my blood vessels in my hands. It makes your hands feel like they are fire and have a red, blotchy rash on the palms. They say over 60% of people with RA suffer from this during a flare. It’s been 5 days now and I don’t see any end to this flare up, but I won’t give in. I’ll just keep truckin and prayin for it to end, SOON!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    12 months ago

    Hi pardyfalcone. Sorry to hear you are having these difficulties. If your flares are getting worse you should bring this to the attention of your doctor. If your RA is not well controlled it may be necessary to alter your treatment regimen. I know these suggestions are more for in the moment than treatment, but this article offers thoughts from the community on getting comfortable during a flare: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/10-ways-to-get-comfortable-during-a-flare-tips-from-the-ra-community/. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • aussiesusan
    1 year ago

    Hello – I live in the tropics of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland – Australia – Fabulous scenery – lovely area of OZ – except that the humidity is mind numbing for 10-12 months of the year and I hurt 10-12 months of the year – There’s something in the barometric pressure hiking up insanely and Rheumstoid Arthritis – I notice the HUGE different in the cold n crisp – warrants some study maybe ??????

  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi aussiesusan. The weather is common topic in the community. It is amazing how different aspects of weather affect different people. You certainly are not alone feeling the effects of humidity and changes in the air pressure. Thought you might be interested in this spotlight page from our editorial team on the weather and RA, including a few pertinent articles: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/spotlight/spotlight-weather-and-ra/. One of the articles is even a discussion with a rheumatologist on the subject. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Tari L Bramlett
    1 year ago

    Thank you for this post Wren!! It’s Saturday and we have promised a friend we’d make it a date night and my hands are literally Throbbing today! Grrr….darn Dragon! 😉 I did get my ‘Why/” answered about 20 minutes ago when a loud crack of thunder outside the window I am sitting by, scared the ‘u-know-what’ out of me! LOL I want my heated mitts and my blankie, But that is nothing new and yes, there have been much worse days! So I will go take a hot shower and get ready to ‘Show-up’ for my friend and have fun! Then I will get the heating pad and blankets afterwards 🙂

  • Tari L Bramlett
    1 year ago

    Oh…and P.S. I too can no longer run to my opioid of choice or any other for that matter! No More for this body!! We can live much healthier without them, oh, and be ourselves, my daughter said once that she could tell a difference in my personality with and without opioids.

  • CandyLou
    2 years ago

    I believe we try to figure out what causes flare -ups so we can have the feeling of control over the disease. The theory of having control is not possible but the optimist in us never gives up!

  • Tari L Bramlett
    1 year ago

    Yes! I believe that too! It is our Optimism that keeps us going and makes us stronger!

  • Tiptoetammy17
    2 years ago

    Hello Wren, Im Tammy and I have had RA since I was 2 and now I am 26. I read your story and can totally relate. I find that the weather really effects my pain but I enjoy the cold weather. I tend to do things that will also make it so I am in more pain the next couple of days. I am learning ways to destract myself everyday and I never thought of coloring so I am going to try that. Hope all is well.

  • IamStable
    2 years ago

    I appreciate this story. It’s nice to know I am not alone. I’ve learned to take care of my hands. I will ask for help for any job like that toothbrush job of your mom’s. I can understand why you did it for her, the poor thing. Next time if you’re stuck doing a job like that with your hands, try using a washcloth/rag. This is what I use to get that little pour cap off my blender- you know the spout/tap at the bottom of the blender that’s about 1 inch in diameter. Using the dish sponge helps.
    I also feel MUCH better during rainy days. Dramatically so! A friend suggests I move to England. Maybe the Northwest US. Naw. I’m here in the NE.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, IamStable!
    Thanks for your sweet comment–and for your suggestion about the washcloth/rag. So sensible! I never even thought of it, but I will next time.
    And there *will* be a next time. I also try to be careful of my hands–they mostly remind me to be every time I do anything less than gentle with with a jolt of pain. But little daily tasks like taking toothbrushes apart, carrying trash bags, etc. are normal, so anything I can do to make them easier helps.
    Thank you SO much for taking a moment out of your busy day to comment!:)

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