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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (8)
  • rhonda
    4 years ago

    I enjoy reading your article and this very thing happened to me the other day at the grocery store. My hands will do the very same thing. Here I am in the aisle and with out warning my hand just opens rite up letting the jar of tartar sauce (of course it was glass) fall to the ground busting on the floor and tartar sauce flying. I know this happens to other people who do not have RA but all I can think is why do my hands have to do this and why are all these people looking at me like I threw it at them. Needless to say I left after helping the sales girl clean it up with NO tartar sauce. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Rhonda. It is embarrassing when these things happen, but at least we all can understand in this RA community.

  • Jane Burbach
    4 years ago

    Great article! A thing happens with me during worse flares when I move my hands a certain way and it feels like something slides or becomes loose. It usually affects the inner wrist through thumb or outer wrist through ring finger. Then the affected area doesn’t move as planned. It can be surprising and I plan to mention it to the rheumatologist next time.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! Yes, sometimes it skips our minds to talk to our doctors about these things b/c we get used to having our bodies doing weird things on us. But it can be helpful information for them to have, plus sometimes they can explain to us why it’s happening.

  • Annette Cornwall
    4 years ago

    I’m so glad you talked about trigger finger. I had a REALLY bad day yesterday. At almost ten at night I got to eat dinner. I decided to take the plate to my room and watch the news and relax. The dog decided to go out right then. I balanced the plate on my closed hand. To shut the back door. Suddenly my finger straightened out and I dumped the plate face down. I’m looking at my hand in shock and bawling because dinner now has to be scrubbed out of the carpet. It never occurred to me that it was an arthritis move. I thought I was just clutzy and tired. Thank you

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    I’m glad I could be of help in figuring out the mystery. No, you’re not a clutz! It’s so frustrating not to have control over the ways our bodies move.

  • KarenG.
    4 years ago

    Your articles are always informative, Thanks! I can relate to this one…. I fell recently and cannot get anybody to understand “things” just happen with RA. I now am of work with a fractured hip…..

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks! I’m so glad to hear you have found my articles to be helpful. I’m sorry to hear about your hip and the lack of understanding. I wish you as speedy a recovery as possible. Hang in there!

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