10 Tips For Dealing With Arthritis Pain

Kathy Quan

Arthritis is a very common musculoskeletal chronic disease. There are over 100 forms of arthritis. Some of the most common forms include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, gout, and psoriatic arthritis. Lupus and fibromyalgia are also types of arthritis. 

Over 13% of Americans, from children to the elderly, suffer from some form of arthritis according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That’s over 38 million Americans.

For the majority of those afflicted by arthritis, chronic pain is a huge issue. Chronic pain is defined as any pain lasting longer than six months, but for arthritis sufferers, chronic pain is a lifelong experience. 

The pain doesn’t have to be constant, it can come and go, but for many, it is a constant issue. Chronic pain interferes with activities of daily living, interrupts sleep, and affects the quality of life.


How to Manage Arthritis Pain

Managing arthritis is key to achieving pain control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are five important parts to effectively managing this chronic illness. 

Everyday choices made to stay healthy are known by the new buzz words “self-management skills.” These include managing symptoms, learning coping skills, reducing stress, healthy eating, and weight loss, managing pain medications and anti-rheumatic drugs, and reducing fatigue.  

Learning new self-management skills is the first step to managing arthritis symptoms and any other chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Self-management education workshops are available to teach you the strategies.

The other steps to managing arthritis and other chronic conditions include staying active, managing weight, protecting joints, and talking to your healthcare practitioner.


How to Stay Ahead of the Pain 

Pain management experts will tell you the most important aspect of managing chronic pain is to stay ahead of it. Don’t wait until the pain is excruciating before trying to do something about it.

Arthritis is an inflammatory process. The greater the inflammation, the worse the aches and pains, and stiffness will be. A healthy diet with foods that don’t cause inflammation or that help to reduce it is best.

Managing your weight reduces the pressure on your bones and joints. Fat cells produce chemical signals that increase inflammation. 

If you take medications, follow the directions, and take them as prescribed. Discuss with your doctor first if you want to modify the schedule. Notify your physician if you are experiencing side effects or have difficulty paying for the medication. Alternatives may be needed.


10 Tips to Help Manage Arthritis Pain

1. Prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication

Both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication can be quite effective if taken as directed and used properly. 

Remember, taking medications is not without risks and side effects. Some medications can be harsh to the digestive system such as NSAIDs, ibuprofen, and Motrin. Others can increase sleepiness or create a foggy brain.

Activity should be minimized until these symptoms pass. Medications can include pain relievers, supplements and vitamins, sleep inducers, and calming agents.

Discuss with your healthcare provider before starting anything new and list all medications for the doctors and pharmacy.

2. Apply Topical Medication 

Topical medications come in a variety of forms such as gels, patches, sprays, drops, and creams can be quite effective. 

They are applied to the skin in the general vicinity of the pain. Some are OTC and others may need a prescription. 

OTC ingredients can include capsaicin which can create a burning sensation, menthol, or camphor. Hemp and cannabis (CBD) creams or ointments can be found with or without the THC psychoactive ingredient. These medications can help numb nerve endings near the skin surface, decrease inflammation and block nerve conduction. 

Ingredients such as camphor and menthol will provide a cooling sensation to distract from the pain.


3. Consider Receiving Steroid Injections of Corticosteroids 

Steroid injections of corticosteroids (i.e. cortisone, prednisone, hydrocortisone) are synthetic versions of the hormone cortisol that are injected into the painful joint to calm and reduce inflammation. 

These injections will help to reduce the inflammation and pain for several days to months or even longer. They can be repeated 2 to 3 times a year. 

A big risk is that they can weaken surrounding tendons and ligaments and make them become fragile and rupture.

4. Try Heat or Cold Therapy

Using heating pads, warm compresses, warm baths, heat patches or hot wax applications can reduce inflammation and pain. The heat works by increasing blood flow and relaxing muscles. It can be used alone or even alternated with cold therapy.

While ice packs are typically commercially made, cold packs can be homemade using crushed or chopped ice or frozen vegetable packs. 

The cold will reduce swelling and inflammation by constricting blood flow. It also blocks the pain along nerve fibers for temporary pain management.

5. Look Into Receiving Nerve Blocks

Nerve Blocks are local anesthetics injected by a physician into a nerve.

The medications used are typically an anesthetic mixed with a steroid. 

The anesthetic blocks the pain by stopping the conduction along the nerve path and the steroid calms the inflammatory tissues. The physician can use this method to help pinpoint the root of the pain. This method is most often used for pain along the spine (back pain) and stops the pain from traveling down into an arm or a leg.


6. Consider Trigger Point Injections

Trigger Point injections are used for a bundle of muscles that are painful due to arthritis (but not for fibromyalgia). The physician injects the muscle bundle with an anesthetic or anesthetic combined with steroids. This allows the muscle bundle to relax and return to its normal structure. 

The pain relief can usually last several weeks to months. Stretching and exercising the muscle will help to potentiate the pain relief. These can be given no more than 3 to 4 times a year.

7. Try Acupuncture 

Acupuncture employs Eastern medicine techniques to release trapped energy known as chi. This ancient therapy originated in China and involves inserting tiny needles under the skin along the meridians in the body to release the chi. 

The needles increase the production of endorphins which are natural pain receptors to morphine-like substances. The process increases blood flow helping to rid the body of the lactic acid that causes pain. 

An alternative is Acupressure in which the practitioner uses the knuckles, palms, and fingers to apply pressure to release the endorphins. These methods work well to reduce all pain but must be used with caution if the patient is on blood thinners or is taking chemotherapy and has a compromised immune system.  

8. Try Meditation 

Meditation is a practice of relaxation techniques developing and using a deep concentration or focus to use a combination of relaxation and mind-body techniques to help reduce pain and improve coping. The focus includes breathing patterns, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, and meditation to achieve this goal. 

Meditation reduces stress which in turn reduces inflammation. Muscles relax and the release of tension can reduce pain. 

Practicing meditation of up to 20 minutes once or twice a day reduces the brain’s response to pain and helps to manage chronic pain of any type. 

Acute pain may require meditation breathing techniques four to five times a day.

9. Wear the Right Shoes

Wearing the right shoes can make a difference. 

Flat, flexible, closed shoes with good arch support are recommended to reduce the high force on knee joints that is often associated with the most common type of arthritis known as Osteoarthritis joint pain. 

Regularly replacing worn shoes as distinguished by flattened insoles or worn-down heels can make a difference as well. Body alignment is key to reducing wear and tear on joints and ligaments. 

Remember, protecting your joints is essential to managing arthritis.

10. Make Healthy Lifestyle changes 

Incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine can help improve mood, decrease depression, and help to distract from pain and discomfort.

Try getting sufficient sleep, eating healthy foods, and balancing fun, joy, and entertainment with necessary responsibilities.

Any combination of these techniques can help to improve the management of arthritis pain as well as other aspects of the arthritic condition. There is no cure for these chronic conditions, but healthy lifestyle changes can lead to improved quality of life and well-being.

Remember to Keep Active

It might seem counterintuitive to move when it’s painful to do so, but exercise and activity are vital to managing arthritis pain. Not moving allows stiffness and resistance to set in which increases inflammation, irritates nerve endings, and causes more pain down the line.

According to the CDC, adults with arthritis should aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking. Alternatively, 75 minutes of low-impact, aerobic activity at a vigorous intensity like bicycling or swimming can be the goal.

Always discuss your unique, personal situation with your practitioner before starting any new exercise program. Start slowly and evaluate your body’s response and tolerance. Modify the program as needed. It may be advisable to work with a physical therapist or occupational therapist to design a treatment plan including a range of motion exercises for your unique needs.

Include physical activity in your daily routine to strengthen muscles and improve balance whenever possible. These can include carrying a 16 oz water bottle in each hand while walking or pausing at intervals to stand on one leg and then the other. Remember that including some exercise in your daily routine is better than none.