Rheumatoid Arthritis is Painful So Remain Physically Active
Don’t let RA and other types of arthritis stop you from running, exercising, and enjoying life.
Painful Stiffness and Tenderness
According to the Arthritis Foundation, approximately 1.5 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It usually strikes between age 30–60. Most sufferers are women. RA affects 1% of the worldwide population.
My first experience with joint stiffness occurred after the birth of my first born. A few weeks after giving birth, I had difficulty going up and down the staircase at home.
I walked the steps sideways so I wouldn’t have to bend my painful knees. My feet hurt. My fingers were painfully stiff and swollen.
My elbows and wrists felt tender and painful to the touch and to movement. I’d wake up completely stiff. Squeezing the toothpaste tube and brushing my teeth was a challenge.
I assumed my body was just exhausted from breast-feeding my daughter and pumping milk every 3–4 hours.
That was not the case. Blood tests showed I did not have have lupus and not quite rheumatoid arthritis but synovitis — inflammation of the synovial fluid around my joints.
The rheumatologist prescribed Prednisone. I pass on it. I read about the side effects. I was nursing and did not want to pass this steroid onto my infant daughter.
I endured painful discomfort, stiffness, and difficulty sleeping.
Eight weeks later I began to feel better. The stiffness was gone. Painless movement returned. I started running to help keep my body moving and stiff-free.
When my daughter was two, I ran my first 5K road race.
Second Bout with Synovitis
Flash forward seven years later. It’s 1994. I now have two children.
I have run several 5Ks, 8 half-marathons, and 2 marathons.
One summer morning I woke up with a stiff neck. Two days later I woke up with intensely painful swollen fingers and wrists, and increased neck stiffness that had me crying. I was scared.
The stiffness, pain, and inflammation spread to my knees, hips, elbows, and feet.
I was unable to squeeze the toothpaste tube, brush my teeth, and button my shirts. My husband helped me.
I was unable to walk normally and to run.
My children and my husband helped me to get up from a sitting position.
I was prescribed Daypro and Voltaren, both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. I got no relief.
Finally, I gave in and took Prednisone. Within three days, my abdomen expanded and my face looked fuller — both side effects of Prednisone. I immediately stop taking it.
I gained 10 pounds. More body weight is never good for joints. It took almost a year to shed the pounds.
Eight weeks later, my synovitis was gone. I was feeling good again. I began running again.
Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis
My next bout with arthritis took place in the summer of 2013. This time, I am diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
I am convinced the RA was a delayed complication of the Cipro toxicity my body endured when I was given Cipro for a urinary tract infection (UTI) I acquired after I got a left kidney nephrostomy as a result of a laparoscopic hysterectomy gone haywire.
According to a 2011 study, this potentially dangerous antibiotic and other fluoroquinolones should not be given to athletes and runners.
I had diminished range of motion. I could not lift my painfully stiff arms and shoulders.
My knees and feet were tender. They hurt when I walked.
My hands and fingers were painfully stiff and swollen.
My husband squeezed the toothpaste for me. He helped to brush my teeth and comb my hair.
He helped to dress me for about eight months.
A 2018 article points out that Cipro (Ciprofloxacin) and other fluoroquinolones now have a black box label warning doctors and patients of their potential harmful effects.
Ran Another Ultramarathon
I saw a new rheumatologist. He prescribed Methotrexate. I got no relief.
He added Plaquenil to the Methotrexate. Still no relief.
I got acupuncture. No relief.
But my years of running had taught me to keep moving. By now I had run a slew of 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 marathons, and 10 ultramarathons ranging from 50–100 miles.
I knew I needed to keep walking. To keep moving even if slowly.
Slow and steady, first with walks, then jogs, and then runs, I trained for my next ultramarathon while on Plaquenil and Methotrexate.
I got relief from movement.
In July 2013, I logged 64.28 miles at the Around the Lake 24 hour ultra in a little over 18 hours. I placed 7th female. The year before at the same event, I placed 3rd female.
My will to keep moving, running, and walking was greater than the painful and debilitating RA. My goal was greater than the disease.
Changed My Diet and Dumped the Meds
Then after reading about the Paleo diet, my husband and I changed what we eat.
We emptied our cupboards. We kept our olive oil, meats, fish, chicken, fruits, and vegetables.
We stopped eating foods that cause inflammation: processed foods, wheat, flour, sugar, high fructose, corn syrup, dairy, pasta, rice, beans, and foods with labels of names we can’t pronounce.
We began cooking and baking with lard, coconut oil, coconut sugar, and coconut and almond flour.
I told my rheumatologist no more. I dumped the meds.
When I told him I had changed my diet to Paleo, he looked at me like I had two heads, and asked, “What is Paleo?” With delight, I went on to explain.
Blood tests later showed I no longer had rheumatoid arthritis. My stiffness and painful joints were no more.
My rheumatoid factor has been in the normal range 7 years now.
I am grateful that 32 years after giving birth to my first born, after two bouts with synovitis, and one bout with rheumatoid arthritis, I am still running ultramarathons.
There is no guarantee that synovitis and RA won’t flare up again. But I know to keep physically active and moving whether it’s through running, hiking, or climbing.
I love indoor climbing.
My husband and I love hiking in the national parks.
Hiking Fun in the National Parks
How to plan, pack, and have a safe and awesome time in the national parks.
Exercising and Running With Different Types of Arthritis
There are many forms of arthritis. If you are having symptoms and your quality of life is affected, see a rheumatologist.
You will know what is best for you. Some will respond positively to medications, others may not.
Some types of arthritis are more severe than others.
Every person is different. To cope with rheumatoid arthritis and to ease discomfort, doctors, and experts recommend various tips and types of movement and exercise.
If you are a runner and have rheumatoid arthritis, there are other physical activities you can enjoy.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends exercises including weight training and stretching for anyone suffering with arthritis.
Based on my experience, I recommend avoiding processed foods and foods that cause inflammation. Consider the Paleo diet.
Don’t let RA and other forms of arthritis stop you from running, exercising, and enjoying life.
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) is an ultrarunner and a hiker who enjoys rock climbing. I am training for my 28th ultramarathon. I invite you to follow me on Twitter and my Facebook page. Thank you for sharing this story.