Caring for Symptoms of PsA

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Psoriatic arthritis, or PsA, is a chronic autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body mistakenly attacks its own joints and areas of the bone where tendons and ligaments attach. This condition causes pain, stiffness, and swelling that can significantly impact your daily life. PsA often occurs with psoriasis—a condition that causes red, itchy patches of skin.

If you're a busy working adult, you might not think you have much time to focus on self-care. But ignoring your symptoms won't make them go away. This article discusses practical ways you can build self-care into your daily routine.

Arthritic hands

Jacques Hugo / Getty Images

Why Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms Come and Go

Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis come and go. The periods of time when your symptoms are worse are called "flare-ups," and they can last for days, weeks, or even months. The exact cause of a flare-up isn't always clear, but there are certain triggers that can play a role.

PsA flare-ups can be triggered by the following:

  • Stress
  • Infections
  • Allergies
  • Certain foods
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Medication changes
  • Weather changes
  • Strenuous physical activity

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care plays an important role in the management of chronic illnesses, including psoriatic arthritis. Research has shown that making self-care a priority helps to manage symptoms of chronic illness and improves quality of life.

What Does Self-Care Look Like?

Examples of self-care include medication management, pain-relieving interventions, stress management, eating a healthy diet, and staying physically active.

Daytime Care for PsA Symptoms

Joint stiffness, pain, and irritated skin from PsA can interfere with daytime activities. Everything from getting dressed in the morning to performing your job duties can be more difficult with chronic illness.

Morning Stiffness

Joint stiffness from PsA is often worse in the morning after you've been resting all night. Swelling settles into your joints, making them difficult to move. Several self-care techniques can help decrease morning stiffness:

  • Bundle up: Keeping your sleeping environment warm can help decrease joint stiffness first thing in the morning. Consider using an electric blanket and keeping the thermostat on a warmer setting. If your symptoms affect your hands and feet, wear socks and/or gloves to bed.
  • Take a hot shower: Shower (or soak in the bathtub) in the morning to increase blood flow and decrease stiffness in your joints.
  • Time your medications: Take your first dose of medication early enough to allow it to start working before you get out of bed in the morning.
  • Stretch it out: Perform stretches in bed to loosen your joints before you start your day.

Visible Plaques

If you have psoriasis along with your psoriatic arthritis, you have to deal with visible plaques—red, scaly patches of skin that can burn and itch. Keeping up with your medications is the first line of defense against visible plaques, but other remedies can also help.

  • Keep skin moisturized: Moisturizing your skin can decrease pain and itching from skin plaques. Choose lotions that are free of chemicals, fragrances, and dyes. Apply lotion right after your shower to lock the moisture into your skin cells.
  • Wear breathable clothing: Tight clothing can further irritate visible plaques. Wear loose clothing made of breathable materials such as cotton or silk during a flare-up.

Meal Planning

Psoriatic arthritis symptoms are caused by high levels of inflammation in your joints. Certain foods can either increase or decrease inflammation in your body. Meal planning can help you include the right kinds of foods in your diet.

Foods that decrease inflammation include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits (especially avocados)
  • Legumes
  • Fish (fatty fish, such as trout and salmon)
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Other beneficial anti-inflammatory additions to your diet include:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Green tea (or matcha)

Energy Conservation and Joint Protection

Psoriatic arthritis can severely damage your joints and cause significant fatigue. Joint protection and energy conservation techniques can help.

  • Plan your day: Schedule your most difficult activities for the time of day when you feel your best. Take frequent rest breaks during physically demanding tasks.
  • Ask for help: Lifting objects that are too heavy for you can further damage your joints. When in doubt, ask for help.
  • Maintain good posture: Position your computer screen at eye level and the height of your chair to allow your arms to be even with the height of your desk. Use a lumbar cushion in your chair to support your back and sit with your thighs parallel to the floor. If needed, use a footrest.
  • Change positions frequently: Spending too much time in one position during the day can increase joint stiffness. Every 30 minutes, stand up and stretch, or take a short walk.
  • Use adaptive equipment: A variety of different tools are available to reduce pressure on your joints during daily tasks—pens and utensils with wider grips, jar openers, levers for doorknobs, dressing sticks, elastic shoelaces, and many more. Consult an occupational therapist for additional recommendations.

Evening Care of PsA

Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis can also make it difficult to relax and unwind from a busy day. Several interventions can help.

Heat and Cold Therapy

Both heat and cold therapy can be beneficial for treating pain caused by psoriatic arthritis. In general, cold helps to decrease inflammation while heat increases circulation to loosen tight muscles and reduce stiffness. Try both, and see which one feels best.

Stress and Recreation

Living with a chronic illness such as PsA can be very stressful. Incorporating stress-relieving techniques and recreation on a regular basis can help. These activities can include:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling
  • Guided imagery
  • Spending time in nature
  • Exploring new hobbies
  • Volunteering
  • Watching a movie
  • Visiting a friend

What Helps During a Flare

Self-care is important on a daily basis, but it's even more critical to practice self-care during a PsA flare-up. Prioritize your activities and build extra rest breaks into your day when symptoms are flared. Talk to your doctor about additional treatment options if your pain is not well controlled.

Making Time for PsA Self-Care

You might be wondering how you'll fit self-care into an already busy schedule. But if you don't make time, you'll eventually be forced to slow down when your symptoms get more severe.

Look for ways to build self-care into your current schedule. Take a leisurely walk or do some journaling during your lunch break at work. Use heat or ice on your sore joints while you're watching your favorite show.

Summary

Self-care is an important part of managing the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis that can significantly impact your daily functioning. Gentle exercise, warm showers, meal planning, skin care routines, and stress management techniques can all help working adults better manage PsA symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

The concept of self-care might seem selfish at first. However, being proactive in caring for your PsA symptoms can reduce the overall severity of your condition. Taking care of yourself first will make you more effective in other areas of your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I get a doctor's note during a PsA flare?

    Symptoms of a PsA flare can impact your ability to perform your job duties. A doctor's note can provide documentation of your symptoms for your employer.

  • Will employers make reasonable accommodations for PsA patients?

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain employers to make accommodations for employees with disabilities. Talk to your employer for more information.

  • Is PsA self-care expensive?

    Self-care does not need to be expensive. In fact, many types of self-care, such as warm baths, meditation, and other stress management techniques, are free.

  • How can you support a partner with PsA?

    If your partner has PsA, encourage them to communicate their needs and be open about their symptoms.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Arthritis Foundation. What triggers an arthritis flare?

  2. Riegel B, et al. Characteristics of self-care interventions for patients with a chronic condition: A scoping review. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2021;116:103713. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2020.103713

  3. Arthritis New South Wales. Tips for coping with morning stiffness.

  4. National Psoriasis Foundation. Must-have lotions. Updated June 4, 2019.

  5. Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network. Psoriatic arthritis: Which foods are triggers and which are suppressants? Updated October 27, 2018.

  6. Hospital for Special Surgery. Managing daily life with rheumatoid arthritis: Strategies, tools, and skills. Updated May 4, 2018.

  7. Cleveland Clinic. What's better for soothing arthritis pain? Ice or heat?. Updated January 28, 2019.

  8. University of Washington. Stress and arthritis.