Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
My RA Toolbox

My RA Toolbox

My hands were giving me some guff recently (as they do). I was wearing my favorite compression gloves already, I’d applied over-the-counter lidocaine cream, and I’d swallowed a dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol). This was on top of the fistful of other prescription drugs I take, every day, morning, and night, to treat my RD.

But none of them were making a dent in my hand-and-wrist pain.

I have a prescription for an opioid pain reliever, but taking it is always my last choice after everything else I try fails. So, I left that little white pill in its bottle while I considered my other options.

If you’re reading this, you probably cope with the frequent joint pain caused by rheumatoid disease (arthritis), too. And if you’re like me, you go through all kinds of gyrations before finally succumbing to swallowing an opioid.

Starting with the less strong stuff

But on this recent day, I wasn’t ready yet to take the strong stuff. My hands hurt—a lot—but they hadn’t hit pain pill level yet. I wanted to be “good.” I wanted to use “alternative methods.’ After all, our government and our doctors tell us earnestly that these are, by far, much better ways to treat our intractable chronic pain.

I went into the bathroom and ran the sink full of the hottest water I could bear. I submerged my hands, past my wrists, halfway up to my elbows, sighing as the heat suffused my skin and warmed them down to the aching bones. I closed my eyes. Mmmm.

Of course, standing at the sink halfway up to my elbows in hot water gets old within a minute or two. It’s b-o-r-i-n-g, right? And, because I wasn’t moving, the balls of my feet started to ache. Then my ankles joined the chorus, with my Achilles tendons singing soprano. Unbelievable!

Sometimes, distractions help with RA pain

Well, I pulled my hands out of the soothing, hot water, dried them off, and drained the sink. Now what? I paced for a while, gingerly, before flopping into the recliner with my Kindle. Maybe, I thought, I can lose myself in a good book and forget—at least for a while—that my hands hurt.

“Reading is a wonderful distraction from pain! Yes! You know it is, and you can do this! It will work!” my Always Optimistic Cognitive Behavior Therapy Self-said, trying not to be snarky. So, I opened a recent purchase: a new book about Robert Kennedy. He was assassinated in 1968, not long after he started his campaign for President. I was 12. I remember the news on television, the horror and sadness in the journalists’ faces and voices, and the somber hush in our living room. Another great man, gone.

Anyway. Time for a trip down Memory Lane—a perfect foil for pain. And so it was, until it came up on time to make dinner. Now, I love to cook, but the fun goes right out of it when it hurts to prep the meal. Forget chopping. Forget lifting heavy pots. Fuggedaboudit.

But sometimes you need the RA pain meds

I hate to admit it, but I gave up, then. I went back to my room and took a pill. As I did, though, I remembered my old paraffin bath. Now there’s a great, if temporary, way to soothe away joint pain! I’d put it away last year, during the hottest part of the summer, unable to bring myself to immerse my hands in hot wax when the patio plants were frying and the asphalt was melting in the sun. But now it was damp and cool outside, winter’s equivalent around here. That deep, penetrating heat on my hands and wrists would feel heavenly!

But where did I stash my paraffin bath? I looked everywhere I could think of, but I couldn’t find it, not in cupboards, in closets, or under the bed. It was nowhere.

By then, though, the pill was kicking in. I’d like to note here, just in case anyone’s feeling all judgy and calling me an addict: there is no high. Taking an opioid pain reliever makes me feel just the same as taking OTC acetaminophen–except between a half an hour and 45 minutes after taking it my nasty joint pain fades away into the background. Oh, it’s still there. I’m aware of it. But it doesn’t live in the front of my mind anymore, which means I can get on with living my life, minus moment-to-moment pain. I can cook a meal, do chores, do most things.

I found my paraffin bath today. I’d tucked it into the compartment inside a footstool, which seemed like a perfectly good, out-of-the-way place for it at the time. Now it’s back on my desk, the wax is slowly melting, and I’m looking forward to dipping my hands into it later, again and again, until I have thick wax gloves of warmth on them. It will help soothe today’s wrist and knuckle pain.

I also found my old book of Tao sayings, perfect for peaceful meditation as I wait for the paraffin on my hands to cool. Meditation is helpful in coping with pain, too. Doesn’t have to be all woo-woo, just a few minutes of quiet, like temporarily taking a gentle step back, out of the rushing world. I always end a little stronger, a little more hopeful, and a little more optimistic, even if I still hurt.

Which I do, often. I have RD. It’s incurable. That’s just how it is. And this is my RD toolbox. What’s in yours?

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.


  • pearson0501
    2 years ago

    Babe take it if you need it. I have been trying hard not to be a “druggie ” I have the same bottle of pain meds that I was given several months ago… I’ve tried the not taking, and have tried the over the counter choices. Taking one pill that actually helps is better for you then taking to many that help your already aginst you body kill your liver.
    Just do what helps so you can live… who cares what people think. I surely don’t anymore.

  • Patricia
    2 years ago

    My RA toolbox is as follows:

    7 MTX every Sunday at lunch
    1 Leucovorin 12 hours after the MTX (helps with side effects of the MTX)
    1 and 1/2 Hydroxycholquine every day with a meal
    a very hot shower daily to loosen up the morning stiffness
    listening to my body & resting when it says “you are about to overdo & regret it!”
    On a day when pain is more than just an inconvenience, I take ONE Aleve. It helps more than any other over the counter pill & lasts for 12 hours.
    If it is a real flare & bad pain lasts 2 or 3 days, I call my Rheumatologist & he orders a week of a steroid & that usually get me thru.
    As a side note: I never take a strong, prescription pain killer because I have had very serious reactions to just one dose of Oxycodone & just one of Percoset…I tell every Dr. I see, none of that, please…because I won’t risk it again.

  • PhilNY
    2 years ago

    I went to a friends nail salon and tried the paraffin bath. My hands responded to the wax well, but I tend to use warm water with good results, so have not bothered to get a home unit yet.
    Tai chi is helpful when you are able enough to perform it, but it has a bit of a leaning curve and can be tough to do when you are really stiff. Reading and meditation are underrated in my opinion as far as distraction goes. The other ideas like gloves sound like something to try. It is always nice to have a toolbox with some alternatives. For me, the small heating pad, ice packs, creams, pillows and warm blankets often get me through the stiff mornings.
    Nice article Wren.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, PhilNY!
    As I wrote this post I was thinking of how desperate I’d get when hit with a bad flare, way back in the bad old days after my diagnosis. The pain was all consuming and I had no idea how to cope with it. I discovered that hot baths helped, and at the time, ice packs didn’t. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned more techniques, mostly because the Internet came to be. I wrote this post hoping that others, new to RD, might benefit the most.
    It sounds like you’ve filled your toolbox well with lots of ways to soothe your joint pain. Heat and ice, creams, soft pillows, and warm blankets are just vital. Thank you so much for sharing the tools that work the best for you. Here’s wishing you many gentle, pain-free days ahead. 🙂

  • gsehealth
    2 years ago

    Rajyoga Meditation helps a lot in arthritis. I suggested my mom about the same. As I am a Brahmakumaris Student. We learn the same there. My mom always do meditation specially in night and morning. It can heal her.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, gsehealth,
    Yoga really can be helpful with arthritis, as can other types of stretching exercise. And yoga requires a form of meditation, tied to breathing correctly, as well. RD is an incurable (so far) autoimmune disease, but gentle exercise such as yoga offers real benefits.
    Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    2 years ago

    You know what, I’m just going to say it. I take the pain meds every day twice a day. I used to resistant to them but one day I took them in the evening and my energy levels skyrocketed, my mind cleared, I had no pain. I felt like my old self again!

    I have never tried a paraffin bath but I think I should…it sounds so comfy and…nice!

    Awesome article, Wren! I think my RA toolbox always includes my pets. I may not do anything but stare at them and them me but, they provide me a lot of comfort and remind me the pain will subside eventually (even if it cycles back).

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Monica!
    I’m so glad that your pain meds work so well for you! I think they do for most of us who are lucky enough to have physicians or pain specialists who will still prescribe them–and there’s nothing wrong at all at taking them when we need them.
    Oh, do try the paraffin bath! They’re not terribly expensive. I’ve had mine for close to ten years now and it’s still working great (knock wood). The heat the paraffin imparts is truly delicious and such a relief when you’re hurting. Another plus? It makes your skin super soft!
    And yes, pets are definitely part of a well-rounded RA tool box. My little cat is a real comfort. I’m not sure what I’d do without her.
    Thanks for taking a moment to comment and share your “tools”. I hope this finds you well and not needing them. 🙂

  • Indigo2
    2 years ago

    a sound box with Ocean sounds…can change to bubbling brook, rain, etc.; can set on timer to go to sleep by
    I also use the gloves for hands, wear them nightly
    pillows to support arms and legs in bed; I have two TKR and bone on bone on both shoulders
    warm bath with lavender Epsom salts
    petting my pup
    getting out in the sun

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Indigo2!
    Oh, I love the idea of a sound box (or maybe a music app/ipod/home stereo system) with ocean or other soft, natural sounds to fall asleep to! The sounds might also work well for meditation or just a few minutes of peace in the middle of a busy–and painful or tiring–day.
    And lavender! Mmm! And a warm bath! Both together? Sublime.
    Thank you so much for sharing some of the items in your “tool box.” I wish you and your pup warm and sunny days ahead! 😀

  • Indigo2
    2 years ago

    Thank you!

  • Poll