How to Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis in College: 8 Tips for Dorm Life With RA
College dorm room

Your first year of college is going to be full of new experiences and excitement. And at the top of that list is moving into your new dorm room. From adjusting to sharing with your roommate, decorating your space, and meeting the other students in your hall, your first month of dorm living can be overwhelming.

But in the midst of moving, unpacking, starting classes, and meeting new friends, managing rheumatoid arthritis in college comes with its own set of unique challenges. Whether you were diagnosed with juvenile arthritis years ago, or received an arthritis diagnosis more recently, moving into your dorm room may require some adjustments and preparation. Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take to make this transition easier and help keep your arthritis symptoms under control.

If You Are Comfortable, Talk to Your Roommate or Resident Advisor About Your Arthritis Diagnosis.

Talking to your roommate about your arthritis can help them understand any specific needs you may have, such as requiring extra time to get ready in the morning or needing certain accommodations for your comfort. This awareness can foster empathy and cooperation between you and your roommate and may help minimize potential misunderstandings or conflicts that could arise due to your condition.

Similarly, your resident advisor can provide another layer of support. They can facilitate any necessary accommodations or help connect you to on-campus resources. They might also have experience assisting students with similar conditions and may be able to provide extra guidance or tips.

Your decision to disclose your condition is completely up to you. Only share what you feel comfortable with. However, if you do choose to share, you may create a supportive network within your dorm that can make your experience more positive.

Avoid Bunk Beds or Lofted Beds

If possible, it’s best to avoid a top bunk or lofted bed. While these types of beds can save space in a small room, they can pose challenges for individuals with arthritis due to the need to climb up and down ladders or navigate narrow spaces.

Opting for a standard bed at a manageable height can reduce strain on the joints and minimize the risk of injury or discomfort. Additionally, having a bed at a comfortable height can make it easier to perform activities that help manage arthritis symptoms, including stretching, resting, or other self-care routines.

If you have the freedom to choose the layout of your sleeping arrangement, talk with your roommate about opting for lower beds. If you need extra support, you can reach out to your resident advisor or the disability services office.

Create an Ergonomic Workspace

Design your study area with ergonomics in mind to help minimize joint strain and discomfort. Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind when setting up your study space:

  • Invest in an adjustable chair: Consider swapping out the standard dorm chair with an adjustable chair that provides proper lumbar support and armrests. Make sure that your feet are flat when you are sitting or use a footrest if needed.
  • Make sure your desk is the right height: You should be able to rest your arms comfortably on the surface of your desk so you create a 90-degree angle at the elbows. If you can, consider a desk with adjustable height capabilities.
  • Optimize your computer setup: Your monitor should be at eye level to avoid straining your neck. Use a detached keyboard and mouse if possible to allow for more comfortable arm and hand positioning. Wrist rests or ergonomic accessories can also help support wrist alignment.
  • Explore dictation options that can decrease the need for typing. There are software options that are speech-to-text and most laptops feature dictation through the standard microphone.

It’s important to take regular breaks from sitting and studying to stretch. This can help alleviate stiffness, promote circulation, and minimize joint pain.

Consider Assistive Devices

Assistive devices can provide valuable support, increase independence, and reduce joint strain. Before you purchase new devices for your dorm room, consider the following:

  • What are my specific needs? Pinpoint the specific tasks or activities in your dorm room that might be challenging due to your arthritis. This can help you determine which devices will be most helpful. For example, if you struggle with gripping things, jar openers or adaptive utensils can be helpful.
  • What are my options? Take your time to do your research and explore all of the options on the market. Items that would be useful in a dorm or shared space, like ergonomic writing tools and easy kitchen gadgets may be good options.
  • Discuss with your arthritis specialist: Your rheumatologist or occupational therapist might be able to provide recommendations for devices that will minimize joint pain and make dorm living easier.
  • Look for portable devices: You will be moving in and out a lot during the next few years. Opt for devices that are easy to store and move. Smaller items that take up less space are also ideal for small dorm rooms.

Find a Secure Location to Store Your Medications

Your medications need to be stored in a safe spot that’s easy to access. A lockable drawer, cabinet, or storage box can keep your medications hidden from others. A small lock or combination lock can add an extra layer of security.

You will also want to consider the temperature of the storage area. Check the labels of your medications or reach out to your rheumatologist to ensure your medications don’t need to be stored at specific temperatures. In general, it’s best to avoid very humid, hot locations or areas where medications could be exposed to water or spills. If your medication needs to be stored in the refrigerator, you want to ensure that the temperature is not freezing or too warm. Using the middle of the refrigerator is the best location, avoiding the area closest to the freezer (if using a small, combined unit) or on the door where the temperature is typically warmer. If you are sharing refrigerator space with your roommate, it is best to label and mark your medication so that it is clearly identifiable.

Pill organizers or medication containers can help keep your medications labeled and stored safely. This can also help you track your medication regimen and ensure that you aren’t forgetting doses.

If you have any concerns with privacy or security in your shared dorm room, talk with our resident advisor or seek additional support from your on-campus disability services.

Establish a Self-care Routine

Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally can help you manage your arthritis symptoms and promote overall well-being.

Regular exercise, including low-impact activities like swimming, walking, and yoga can improve joint flexibility, strengthen muscles, and reduce stiffness. You should always discuss exercise routines with your rheumatologist or occupational therapist to develop a plan that best fits your abilities and lifestyle.

Relaxation techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing, or meditation can reduce anxiety that can lead to flares. The library is a great, quiet spot for some deep breathing.

While it can be challenging to balance a healthy sleep schedule with studying and your social life, a consistent sleep schedule of at least 8 hours a night is essential if you have arthritis. You may need to adjust your study and social schedule to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep.

If you struggle to fall asleep, deep breathing, white noise, and avoiding screens before bed can be helpful.

Explore Your School’s On-Campus Resources for Students with Disabilities

Most universities have dedicated disability services or accessibility offices that provide support and accommodations to students facing various challenges, including arthritis.

Not only can they help you with accommodations in your dorm room, they can also assist with transportation needs, modifying classroom environments, note-taking assistance, or alternative testing arrangements. These offices have knowledgeable staff and may be able to connect you with support groups tailored to students with arthritis or other chronic conditions.

Utilizing the on-campus resources for students with disabilities is your right. Don’t hesitate to contact the disability services office and take advantage of the opportunities they offer. This does not have to mean that your disability is disclosed, but rather gives you accommodations that may be helpful when you are navigating a flare or need time for your off-campus appointments during or between classes.

Advocate for Yourself

Advocating for your needs can sometimes be challenging, especially when you are in a new and unfamiliar environment. But by knowing who to reach out to and what your needs are, speaking up can ensure that you receive the support and accommodations necessary to have the best college experience.

Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Be proactive. Don’t wait too long to reach out for help. If you need accommodations or assistance, reach out sooner rather than later. Perhaps this involves discussing extended deadlines for a project or paper, or modifications to seating arrangements in class. Be clear and open with your communication so others can understand your needs.
  • Familiarize yourself with your resources. Make sure you know how to contact the disabilities or housing office. Your academic advisor or resident advisor may also be able to direct you to contact information or more resources.
  • Know your rights. You have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Understanding your rights as a student can empower you to advocate more effectively and assertively. Be aware of the procedures for filing complaints or resolving issues related to disability accommodations should the need arise.

You can always ask your rheumatologist if there are specific services that may be helpful as well.

With the right preparation and resources, your first year of college doesn’t need to be complicated by arthritis. Take time to enjoy this exciting time and all of the new experiences you will have.

Summit Rheumatology in Gilbert, AZ sees students with arthritis, including students transitioning from juvenile arthritis care to adult arthritis care. Students at Arizona State University, University of Phoenix, and Grand Canyon University can learn more or schedule your appointment at or by sending us a message.

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(480) 494-2771

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