If you’re one of the 350 million people in the world1 currently struggling with arthritis, you know how stressful a flare-up can be. Basic tasks, like opening doors or climbing stairs, often become painful and difficult. Even when the pain subsides, the thought of it returning can make it a challenge to make plans. Having tools to help you manage your pain is an important step towards living with your arthritis symptoms. We’ve put together a list of six ways you can address arthritis pain. Of course, be sure to consult a physician or other medical professional before making any changes in your treatment protocol or exercise level.
1. Turn up the heat (or cool it down).
Using heat and cold therapies can help reduce2 the pain and inflammation symptoms caused by your arthritis. Cold reduces inflammation by constricting blood vessels, while heat dilates and stimulates blood flow. Finding the right combination of temperature and type of therapy that works well for you may take some trial and error. Begin by trying some of these:
- Immersing yourself in a warm bath to apply heat to all your major joints and large muscles at once. Test the water before getting in to avoid burns.
- Swimming or walking in a warm pool. Health clubs can typically tell you the temperature of their pools, and if they cater to older or rehabbing clients, they may have a pool they keep at a slightly higher temperature for their comfort. The added benefit is that you can also get in a little exercise while warming your joints.
- Applying a heating pad directly to a specific spot. This can help provide targeted relief, however, be careful about leaving the pad on your skin too long to avoid burns.
- Running warm or cool water over the area that is stiff or painful. This is another method that helps provide targeted relief. If you find it difficult to stand for the time needed, a bath bench in your shower or tub can allow you to sit comfortably and the rubber feet will help keep the bench from sliding on the wet floor.
- Applying a hot or cold compress, as needed. Make sure it isn’t too hot or too cold, and then place it on the affected area throughout the day, being sure to stop if it ever gets uncomfortable. A combination hot/cold pack that is flexible, reusable and can either be heated it in the microwave or cooled in the freezer is a cost-effective investment. If you have two, you can keep one in the freezer and the other at room temperature, ready to heat in the microwave for when you need it.
Whether you choose a hot or cold therapy, it will take time to work, so be patient.
2. Change your footwear.
Did you know that using certain types of shoes, such as clogs or stability shoes, can increase arthritis pain, especially in the knees? If you are experiencing arthritis pain in your knees, try an alternate type of shoe and see if it helps relieve your symptoms. Flat walking shoes or even flip-flops may be a better option3 for reducing the amount of stress on your joints.
3. Take a break and meditate.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, Meditation can help alleviate arthritis pain and related depression.4 Try sitting and meditating for just 15 minutes a day. It doesn’t require any equipment and can be very beneficial. Just find a comfortable place to sit where you can focus on your breathing. If you’re new to meditation and don’t know how to begin, you can find a variety of resources online to introduce you to the practice of meditation.
4. Move to keep your mobility.
According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center5, “regular physical activity can keep the muscles around affected joints strong, decrease bone loss and may help control joint swelling and pain.” Exercise can also help with your mood and pain management. Whether you prefer the gentle movements of Tai Chi, the supportive environment of water aerobics, walks in the park or a strength training regime with light weights, pick something that appeals to you. Consistency counts. If you need help identifying an appropriate plan, check online for exercises that have been adapted, such as chair yoga, or talk to a physical therapist or certified trainer for their ideas.
5. Use compression and support.
Many people feel the pain and effects of arthritis symptoms in their hands and fingers. Some occupational therapists recommend the use of therapy gloves6 to help. There are an array of therapy gloves that address different needs, including providing extra support or adding extra warmth. In particular, compression support gloves may help relieve pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The gloves provide extra warmth plus mild compression for increasing circulation to help reduce pain and promote healing. The open fingertips allow you the freedom to perform your daily tasks, yet the gloves are soft and comfortable enough to wear all night.
6. Try a topical approach.
According to the Arthritis Foundation7, topical medications applied to your skin in the affected areas may provide some relief from your symptoms. These are available in an array of formulas, including gels, lotions, sprays and patches. How they work depends on their active ingredients:
- Sodium channel blockers, such as lidocaine or prilocaine, which help numb the nerves close to your skin (where much of the pain from arthritis sits).
- Topical NSAIDS which have a direct anti-inflammatory effect by targeting specific inflammatory proteins.
- Other types of topical analgesics that promote cooling or warmth, such as ActivICE that cools the area for a long period of time.
Some of these medications are available over-the-counter (for example, Activice), while others require a prescription. You also want to be sure that any new medications you want to try don’t conflict with your current medications, so be sure to talk to your doctor before using anything new.
Choosing what works for you.
One or more of these methods may help you better manage your arthritis symptoms, but each person is different. What is the optimal combination for you? There may be no perfect mix, just one that allows you to move more freely and with less pain. Consult with your healthcare team and test out the options to find what helps make you feel your best.
1National Arthritis Month. (2003, May 1). Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=23220
2Ambardekar, A. (2017, November 19). Heat and Cold Therapy for Arthritis Pain. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/arthritis/heat-and-cold-therapy-for-arthritis-pain#1
3Block, J., Fogg, L., Shakoor, N., Sengupta, M., Wimmer, M. (2010, June 29). Effects of common footwear on joint loading in osteoarthritis of the knee. [Abstract]. Arthritis Care Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20191571
4Meditation for Arthritis: How To. (2017, August). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/mind-body-pain-relief/meditation-techniques.php
5Bartlett, S., PhD. (n.d.). Role of Exercise in Arthritis Management. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/role-of-exercise-in-arthritis-management/#sec2_a
6RA Gloves (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/ra-gloves
7Foltz-Gray, D. (n.d.). Fight Arthritis Pain Without Pills. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/pain-management/tips/arthritis-pain-relief-alternatives.php