Sad woman carrying a gallon of milk and shopping bag weighing her down

Heave Ho – Lifting with RA

Lifting without igniting a flare may be one of the biggest challenges we face in our day-to-day lives. When you stop and really consider how many times a day you lift something - from the pillow that falls out of bed to the floor to the bag of groceries you brought home - it is mind-boggling. Couple that with the impact it has on our joints and it spells "flare" with a capital F.

How lifting affects my smaller joints

For me, it is not only the effect that lifting has on the obvious joints in our backs, shoulders, and arms, but also the impact it has on fingers and wrists.

I find lifting milk jugs by the handles or grocery bags by the plastic openings in the bags ends up causing as much discomfort to those smaller joints as the larger joints.

Of course, it has taken years for me to sort out exactly which activities are the true culprits. For instance, I know - without a doubt - that any time I carry a gallon jug of milk for any distance, I will have stiff hands and shoulder pain within 24 hours.

We are all different

Two important points to make here. One, we are all different. What is bothersome to me may not trigger pain and stiffness in you. 

But, it bears sharing as it may inform you if you should have these issues. The more we share our own experiences, the more we help one another to cope with and manage our rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Secondly, one of the more unique and bothersome attributes of RA is that you may feel just fine as you start the task, thus making it a matter of remembering the end result. For instance, I may instinctively go to lift that gallon jug because, at that moment, I am fine. It is later that the effect takes hold. 

So, what does that mean? Well, it means I need to keep the potential for pain and stiffness in my mind at all times. Kind of like muscle memory, only for the brain.

Develop a warning system

This takes practice. It needs to become part of the warning system we develop. In the same way that you might see a frozen pond and hesitate before venturing out for a walk on it because you know that the ice could collapse beneath you, so too, should you stop and consider a lifting task before doing it. 

Let’s take this analogy a bit further. So there you are considering heading out onto an icy pond. What do you need to consider before doing so? 

Well, the temperature for one. Also, is anyone with you in case of an emergency? What is the purpose of going on the ice? Is there any information available to you to confirm the safety of doing so? Are there other folks on the ice already who can attest to its safety?  Lots of questions to be answered before it makes any sense to go forward.

Things to consider

Now let’s translate this to our RA. Before doing any amount of lifting, there are several things to consider. 

One is the actual weight of the object(s). Does it make sense to lift something heavier than, say 5 pounds, without help? Another consideration is how necessary is it, at this moment, to lift it? Can I delay this and have someone assist me? This one can be especially tough to conquer because we like being independent.

If we are not having any pain at that moment, it seems logical to go ahead and lift whatever comes our way. If we are alone, this can be truly challenging. If I am at the grocery store by myself, how do I get that gallon jug of milk to my cart, car, and home without lifting it?

More tips on safe lifting with RA

This brings me to the next point. There are ways to safely lift items that we simply have no choice but to lift ourselves. 

To do so safely, there are many assistive devices and strategies to use to do so. The Arthritis Foundation, as well as many other useful sites, offer great ways to safely lift

I have watched some great videos that visually show you how to position your body in a way that puts a lot less stress on your joints. You can find these on YouTube or by searching in your browser. Just be sure it is a reliable site.

The key to all of this is to consider what you lift, how you lift, and when to lift BEFORE you lift. In doing so, you will be spared a lot of pain and suffering.


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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.

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