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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.


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.


  • JanetEJ
    6 months ago

    I fully appreciate your article. I often say to myself that I can do almost anything, but I can’t do it over and over again without pain and fatigue. Stairs are often my worst enemy, and I don’t dare try to chew gum any longer due to bone deterioration in my jaw. Other times, it is being in any one position for an extended period of time that causes the pain and stiffness that debilitate.

  • saltwater72
    7 months ago

    Great article!

  • StiffTiff
    7 months ago

    This is how I learned I had RA. I was in Las Vegas and played the nickle slots for hours at a time. This was when you had to pull the handle instead of pressing a button. My wrists got swollen and painful. I thought I had cysts or carpal tunnel, but a blood test showed high rheumatoid factor. I was shocked!

  • Jo J
    7 months ago

    Thanks Nan, repetition is definitely an issue for me. My inflammation frequently leads to tendinitis, so “repetitive use injury” seems to never be far away.
    Stirring over a hot stove = double whammy! I love to make jam 🙁

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    7 months ago

    I know for me it varies. Sometimes repetition is a disaster but other times the same movement feels good. So for instance riding a bicycle makes my legs feel great even if they are painful when I start. Other times, using a knife to cut vegetables drives me up the wall. Likewise driving can be damning for my foot, but waking feels great. Is it gross motor skills verses fine motor skills? Maybe. But more likely it is desire as much as anything.

  • StiffTiff
    7 months ago

    For me it seems to be only short repetitive movements and the smaller joints that get affected.

  • Mary Mann
    7 months ago

    I was diagnosed with sero negative RA six years ago. Pain is always present but sometimes I think the lack of energy both mentally and physically is harder to live with. Since I like to cook, I learned to make some adjustments. When I need to chop vegetables for soup or a salad, I sit down in front of the TV with my chopping board and vegetables. I use scissors to open any package. I buy packaged salads and quick oven foods for flare days. It is the adaptable that survive. With RA we should survive forever.

  • qejm0g
    7 months ago

    So true Mary Mann! Since I stopped working and have been cooking/chopping more-getting my ‘chef’ on, I’ve noted the pain in my feet with standing at the stove or after standing to chop or slice!
    My bread n butter pickles were a trade off for a flare that really affected my elbows and shoulders last summer.
    So I bring a counter height chair to the stove to stir and sit at the counter to chop/slice. I purchased a smaller knife and keep it well sharpened -that’s helped with the elbow and shoulder!

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