Those Awkward Arthritis Moments

Rheumatoid arthritis is often described as an “invisible disability.” While those of us suffering with aches, pain, swelling, and fatigue may be thinking of little else, other people may be none the wiser that we aren’t at the top of our game. Then there are those moments when RA can make me so stiff, loud, or downright clumsy that even if people don’t know I have a disease, my body draws their attention.

Locking and popping of stiff joints

My most frequent awkward arthritis moment comes with the need to relieve the stiffness and/or achiness in my body through movement. My fingers may be stiff and require me to alternately make a fist and extend my fingers out a few times. While this may be a common enough sight during an essay exam in which students are feverishly writing page after page, it happens less often in conference rooms. When my wrists ache it can help to roll my hands in slow circles a couple of times. It’s a small thing that may or may not capture the attention of other people in the room. However, when my knees are the culprit, that’s another matter. Several times a day a stiffness and pain comes into one or the other of my knees and will not go away until I pop my knee. I have to bend and extend my leg several times until it makes a popping sound, which instantly relieves the discomfort. Sometimes I can stand the stiffness until I’m alone and can pop my knee in privacy. However, other times there is increasing pain that accompanies the stiffness, and I can’t put off relieving the joint with movement. If I’m sitting at a big table and the pop isn’t too audible, this isn’t a big deal. However, there have been plenty of times where I don’t have the benefit of a table for cover, or when the pop is really loud, and it can attract the attention of neighbors.

On one occasion my knee attracted the attention of people as far as a block away. I was walking down the sidewalk on a college campus and talking on my cell phone. My knee wasn’t particularly hurting, and I felt fine. However, all of a sudden my knee went completely out. I fell to the ground, scraping my leg, and my cell phone went flying, breaking apart on impact with the concrete. I was caught completely off guard. People rushed over to ask if I was okay, and while I sincerely appreciated their concern, I was embarrassed by the attention.

Losing balance due to RA stiffness

That was the most noticeable awkward arthritis moment I’ve had. However, I’ve had plenty of others due to trigger finger. Trigger finger is a condition in which inflammation in the fingers narrows the space in the tendon sheaths, which can make the affected fingers lock into a bent position and then straighten suddenly with a pop, like a trigger being pulled and then releasing. I had inflammation in my fingers for over a decade before developing this related condition. It affects me when I am holding something in my hand, such as a cell phone or a glass of water. My fingers will close around the item and then, without warning, the tendons will snap into a straight position, causing me to drop whatever I was holding. This has led to several interrupted phone conversations, and, more embarrassingly, many spills and even some broken glass.

It is rare that my RA allows me to feel particularly graceful, but these awkward arthritis moments add insult to injury, as I then not only feel stiff and achy, but also clumsy.

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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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