Trying to Sit Pretty with RA

Trying to Sit Pretty with RA

Anyone with a basic understanding of rheumatoid arthritis can imagine some of the activities that might be challenging for a person with the condition, such as long distance running or pole vaulting. Those of us with the disease know that RA also makes small movements, such as opening a jar or turning a key in a lock, difficult. However, in spite of having been diagnosed 15 years ago, it remains slightly mind-boggling that the act of sitting, of literally not moving, can cause pain in my joints.

I was diagnosed with RA when I was in college and working as a part-time nanny, so on a general day the longest stints I spent sitting were for study sessions. I did pull the occasional all-nighter while working on a paper, and I felt the impact of sitting in front of the computer for hours on my hips and knees. However, that only happened a few times a semester. After graduate school I was a social worker, and I was usually on the go. It wasn’t until my first desk job that I realized just how hard it could be on the human body to sit in one spot.

Sometimes after sitting at my desk for a couple of hours, my hip would seize up in a painful spasm upon rising. After a day at the office, I often had to walk with a slight limp to my car due to the pain in my hips and knees. I began searching for strategies to find some relief. For instance, I started printing documents to the large printer down the hall rather than to my desk printer as a means to get up and loosen up my joints with a short stroll. I worked in a tall building with lots of stairs, so during breaks I would climb a few flights of stairs to try to keep things moving.

I searched the web for ergonomic chair options, and was interested to learn that even those without musculoskeletal disorders have difficulty sitting for long periods of time, leading to innovative (and incredibly expensive) options such as desks that can alternate between sitting and standing positions and seats that more closely resemble exercise bikes than office chairs. I did toy with the idea of using an exercise ball for a chair, as that requires the body to engage in subtle, ongoing movements, but I couldn’t get past the embarrassment factor. Having an “invisible disability,” I didn’t want to explain to every person who was turning in a purchase order that I have an autoimmune condition, much less why sitting on a ball might be helpful for it. However, I did purchase an inflated rubber disc for my chair, which is supposed to have some of the benefits of sitting on a ball without being quite so eye-catching. I also purchased an adjustable footrest for under my desk, which relieved some of the pressure off of my knees.

I am no longer in a job where I sit for such long stretches, but I am witnessing the advancement of my disease in the activities that previously did not cause discomfort but are now painful. For instance, sitting in the car can cause a tight, pinching pain in my hips while driving. There are other times when I can sit at home fairly comfortably, but once one of my small children adds his or her weight to my lap, the pain ramps up.

There is so much about this autoimmune disorder that doesn’t make sense, starting with the fact that the symptoms are caused by attacks from the very system in our body that is supposed to protect us from disease. It is baffling that with this condition, even resting can be uncomfortable.

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.


View Comments (10)
  • mcadwell
    3 months ago

    I can sit about 20-25 minutes at a time before my hips become painful even though I’m constantly shifting my legs around. I hate meetings at work because they run an hour and then have to use the table to help me get out of the chair.

    I’m going to look into the chair/disk thing to see if that might help.

    I had to stop driving. Can’t keep my leg in one position for any length of time (pushing the accelerator or brake). Because of the pain in my shoulders I can’t keep my arms up on the steering wheel anymore and because of the scoliosis between my shoulder blades, I can’t turn to the right anymore to look behind me anyway.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    Hi mcadwell,

    I’m so sorry that your RA is causing so much disruption in your life. I can relate! Frequently in meetings I have to shift in my seat and bend and straighten my legs because my knees lock up otherwise, and it is both uncomfortable/painful and I feel self-conscious.

    As far as the driving, you may relate to this “RA Daydream: Robot Chauffer” article.

    Thank you so much for sharing what you are going through. It is helpful to others in our community to know we’re not alone. I wish you all the best as you contend with these challenges.

    Gentle Hugs,

  • Elizabeth Riggs
    4 years ago

    My husband got a couple of task chairs (armless, and higher than the usual “secretary’s chair” for the kitchen. We eat in the kitchen at the small kitchen table he built about 4 times a month. I can go in and sit with him while he cooks. My hips do give me some “pain comments” when I get up. Because of the height, I don’t think I could use a ring pillow (inflatable or solid rubber), but shifting from hip to hip helps me get more time on that chair.

    Same thing for my electric recliner (or as my daughter calls it, “Mom’s lift her up and throw her out chair!”)I use a foam and gel cushion along with the sheepskin from my bed (when I replaced the small one with a “twin size” sheepskin). I’m in the chair most of the day, and I do a LOT of shifting around. Thank goodness my service dog needs to be “worked” and taken out to “do his business” a couple times a day. (His helpfulness doesn’t help me get up and move around, though. No matter what I drop, he’s on it like a duck on a June bug! If he can get his mouth around it, he will pick it up and bring it to me!)

    We had a waterbed. I loved it, but it was cradling me a bit much. Daughter got us onto a California king Tempur-pedic mattress. I like it better. I can move around on it very well, and it is easier to get out of bed than the water mattress was. Just can’t change the sheets! I hate to do it, but I’ll have to ask my Dear Daughter (DD) to change the sheets next time she’s over. I agree with “mamarama” that it is sad that this VILE disease affects both moving and not moving – makes both painful!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing what works and what doesn’t work from you. It’s so helpful to hear other people’s experiences.

  • mamarama
    4 years ago

    I make a point of trying to never sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch. Any longer and I can feel my joints stiffen. Sadly, lying in bed causes the same problems. A bed topper that is a combination of memory foam and gel helps relieve the discomfort of the pressure points I get. Because of these, I move all night long. I don’t find total memory foam comfortable because it’s harder for me to move on it, but this topper also has gel which makes it easier to move and is gentle on my joints. It is sad that this disease make both moving and not moving painful.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and the tip about the combination foam/gel bed topper. Sometimes we can get some extra tools for combating the symptoms of RA through sharing with one another. Thanks!

  • Anita
    4 years ago

    It’s sad, isn’t it, that we can’t even rest comfortably. I’ve been sitting a lot lately, since I’m recovering from spinal disk replacement surgery and am still using crutches to maintain balance. So I end up sitting all day. I’m not actually feeling much pain in the joints, but have developed pressure sores on the back of the thighs which are painful and very slow to heal. I’ve been forcing myself to get up and move around every couple of hours, but if I overdo it, I end up with muscle spasms in my legs, which are almost as annoying as the sores. Sometimes you just can’t win 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Yes, there’s a thin line we’re walking. I hope that the surgery was successful and that you soon gain more mobility. I’m thinking of you!

  • Madhura Duttagupta
    4 years ago

    A regular feature of my life in grad school involves sitting for long hours in front of a microscope and sometimes after my session gets over it takes all the strength to get out of that chair. Sometimes my joints feel so stiff that I have to literally hold on to the wall while I limp back to my workbench. While footrests ease some pressure from my ankles, I havn’t found anything suitable for my hips yet.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I use a rubber, inflatable disc that does help a little bit, and another reader commented on Facebook that he uses a ring to sit on in his office chair and car. I wonder if either of those options might bring any improvement, as they keep you from sitting completely still. I can imagine it’s very difficult – it’s hard enough sitting in a chair, and you’re hunched over a microscope to boot! I wish you the best.

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