Figure on right in a tai chi pose. Flame with joint and pain marks on the left.

Repetition = Pain

This equation is an absolute for me.  In nearly every area of my life involving physical movement, if I do it over and over and over without a break, I pay the price. And the price is pain, swelling, fatigue, etc.

Repetition is pain

For example, if I am stirring something on the stove the requires I do it repeatedly for a significant length of time, with little to no stopping, the next day is hideous.  My wrists, hands, etc. will let me know that they did not appreciate my decision!

The same is true when I am teaching Tai Chi.  If I am modeling a specific move within a form, let’s say a pivot, and I do it over and over, I regret it later.

Variation in movement

I believe the key is to have some variation to the movement.  So, I can do my Tai Chi because I am not moving only a single joint but rather doing a series.  The same is true for swimming.  Most involve multiple joints which means there is no single joint bearing the brunt of the activity.  In addition, I have built up the ability over time to even do any of the swim strokes.  I also do a variety of movements in the water which keeps all the joints moving as much as possible.

Taking a break is clearly one of the keys to allowing some form of repetition. That is often easier said than done, however.   When I am teaching Tai Chi, I have no choice if a student asks for some clarity on a move.  I have to show them the specific technique.  I have learned that I can adjust how I teach to accommodate this.  I can say “let’s try the entire form and see how we do.”  That is often enough of a break in the repetition to ease that issue.

Importance of taking those breaks

This is not a lesson that comes easy for many of us with RA who are used to doing our preferred activities without thought of the repetition involved.  It seems like we are always being bombarded with yet another thing to consider as we move through this journey.  But when faced with the alternative of pain and flaring, it becomes a necessary step to take.  I had to stop both running and tennis because of the repetitive motions they required.  Cooking, as well, is just too difficult.  That said, cooking is not an issue for some folks with RA and I envy them.  Perhaps they have figured out how to take the necessary breaks to interrupt that Repetition = Pain equation.  I just have never mastered that when it comes to cooking.

I think for some folks it may be about fine motor versus gross motor.  I seem better able to adapt to taking breaks when it comes to gross motor activities than fine motor ones.  I used to crochet and sew and I simply cannot do either anymore.  I attribute that to the need to repeat movements in both activities.  This may also be closely tied to where our RA tends to settle or hit us most.  My larger joints are a bit more “forgiving” for me while I know many folks who have greater difficulty with their hips, knees, etc.  Perhaps that is a factor to keep in mind when trying to adjust your repetition pattern.

Over time I have learned how to manage my level of repetition and to fine tune it to accommodate my RA.  It is a valuable tool in managing the pain and flaring that we must contend with while on this journey.


By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

More on this topic

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.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.
poll graphic

Community Poll

After the past 2+ years, how do you feel about telehealth appointments to manage your RA?