A Hands Off Sound Off: Avoiding Contact to Avoid RA Pain

Got a question that I am going to answer today. 

“How do you successfully act like you don’t have arthritis around people you don’t want knowing (i.e. going to church and not wanting to shake anyone’s hand because your hand feels horrible)?!!”

I don’t know if I am the best resource for this particular question because I have been told I kind of come off stuck up anyway, so I figure I am a natural at being unapproachable (LOL).  On the other hand, perhaps that makes me ideal at answering this question.  I guess we will find out…

I am not the most touchy feely person around.  I like my personal space and generally feel uncomfortable when people I don’t know well want a hug….  But worse is when people want to get physical while I am in pain….  I think David Spade said it best:  “No touchy!”

Avoiding the Dreaded Death Grip

When it comes to situations where physical contact is imminent, such as in church, I usually just won’t go.  It’s not worth the pain and it’s not like I don’t have a Bible at home.  BUT, I am not everyone, so if I HAVE to go, I will do a little pre-planning, since a painful handshake is not something I want to relive.   I will arrive late, or just as things are about to get started, and if I look like I am in a hurry or flustered (yes, even when I can’t move well), this has usually got me past the hand shake and greeting.  Also, I may look for a back or unmanned door through which to enter.  Scouting safe, contact routes is a good job for a healthy accomplice. 

I can’t imagine going anywhere to socialize if I am in too much pain to endure a handshake, but if I WERE to show up for church for pre-service socializing I may……

Link right arms with my husband and keep my left hand rested on his arm. Not only does this make my shaking hand unavailable, it makes my husband’s presence more dominant (just the rules of body language my friends), so if a hand shake or some kind of contact is coming, he will be my first line of defense.  Be sure and let your husband know of your intentions.  He may screw up at first, but give him some time to practice and he will be your best defense.  He could even come up with maneuvers that you never thought of to keep the paparazzi from bum-rushing you with hugs and handshakes.  You will begin to move and work in sync, sort of like Edward and Bella, or Whitney and her bodyguard, Kevin Costner (lol).

If a husband/partner who will run D for you is not an option, consider…..

Carrying a Big Stick….or cane, or something else to occupy your hands.  Hold a kid (yes, sometimes holding  a kid is better than a really firm handshake), a sweater,  your purse, etc.  Whatever you are able to manage that day to keep your arms busy and unavailable.   If you can’t close your hands, or tolerate any weight on your arms or hands, and are in that much pain, I would really reconsider going out at all. 

Avoid Eye Contact.  I really didn’t appreciate how disconcerting it is when someone doesn’t look at you in the face until the other day when I was speaking to a gentleman from a culture where eye contact was not always appropriate.  It is very off-putting in our culture.  If you avoid eye-contact, avoiding physical contact should be a piece of cake.  Heck, you could always move to that guy’s neck of the woods to avoid physical contact…. just a thought, lol. 

Stay Just Out of Reach.  Just like with eye contact, our culture has unspoken rules regarding physical distance.  Americans tend to need more physical space than other cultures.  As a general rule of thumb, stay about 4 feet or more away from those you don’t want to touch.   The greater the distance, the better.

Keep Your Head Down.  If everything else has failed and some clueless person is still pushing a hug on you, angle your body away from them and put your head down for a sideways hug.  I do this all the time, lol.  This protects your arms and hands, and does not allow the person to squeeze.  The only part of your body that may experience pain are your shoulders, but only if they squeeze hard.  You never have to hug back for any type of hug, especially if it causes pain.  That is the least you can do for yourself if you aren’t going to tell them straight up that you don’t want to be hugged.

Make Yourself Sick.  If you don’t want to go through the awkwardness of saying that you have RA, are in pain, and do not wish any contact, just simply say you are sick.  That word “sick” usually is enough to make people take a step back.  When presented with a handshake or some other form of contact, I will smile, nod my head once in friendly acknowledgement, and say, “oh, I am sick.”  If I can make a casual “stay away” kind of gesture with my hands, I will.  The point is to come off like you are protecting them, rather than yourself.  Most people won’t press further, but sometimes someone will ask what I am sick with and I just answer with a short statement, and then I will change the subject.  I will say something dismissively like, “I have rheumatoid arthritis.  Today I am in pain, but I will be OK”  I don’t want attention drawn to me, and people don’t tend to understand anyway, so I have found it just best to try to avoid the topic as much as possible. 

The bottom line is this:  do what you are most comfortable doing.  Don’t do anything you are not comfortable with.  You can’t worry about what others think.  You’re body is your own and no one has the right to touch you, not even your hands.  If people miss or don’t accept your subtle and polite messages about avoiding contact, then a more direct approach is appropriate.  Do not be afraid to communicate with others about not wanting to be touched.  It can be done in a polite, or even lightly humorous manner.  You can always tell them that you will give them a rain check for when you are feeling better. If they cannot understand that your choice is not a personal one, then perhaps you might consider rethinking the time you invest in that person. 

Keep in mind that hurt feelings heal much faster than joints affected with RA.   

Hope that helps 😉

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Chris
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 20:39:47

    Hello, Patrice,

    I am a reporter. I would like to speak with you about a story that I am working on. Can you contact me, please?


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