8 Ways to Relieve Arthritis Pain
Arthritis is becoming ever more common among Canadians as we age. That can translate into a lot of joint pain for a lot more people. In fact in a 2013 Pulse Group survey of people who take pain medication, 60 percent of those with arthritis say they put up with pain for five or more years before their initial diagnosis. In the same survey, close to half said their arthritis has a big impact on their ability to enjoy life. “Definitely, pain is one of the most important things for the patient, and what is immediately affecting the patient,” says rheumatologist Dr. Nigil Haroon, a clinician scientist with University Health Network in Toronto. Fortunately, there are many ways to relieve arthritis pain. Here are eight of them.
Can reaching out to others help to reduce your pain? It might. That’s because it gives you an opportunity to share experiences and strategies. You can find out which medications relieve pain for other people with arthritis, or learn tips for dealing with stress and fatigue. Of course, everyone’s individual circumstances are unique; not all pain relief medications are suitable for everyone. If in doubt, consult with a healthcare professional before use. The Arthritis Society also offers six-week programs across Canada where you can learn more about pain management and other skills while you get to know other people living with arthritis. You may also benefit from participating in online discussion boards or reading blogs.
In the Pulse Group survey, 47 percent reported that they were able to stay more active after relieving their pain, and 44 % said they were sleeping longer. Products containing acetaminophen, – for example, TYLENOL® Arthritis Pain, which is #1 doctor recommended for treatment of osteoarthritis pain, according to The Medical Post’s 2011/2012 “Survey on OTC Counseling and Recommendations” – are considered effective. Acetaminophen is a suitable pain reliever for those at increased risk of adverse events from use of pain relievers, including people taking multiple prescription medications. If in doubt, consult with a healthcare professional before use. Products containing ibuprofen may also help with arthritis pain.
Is knee pain getting you down? Take a load off. For every pound that you lose, you’ll feel like four pounds of weight have been removed from each knee. And after losing just ten pounds, you may experience a world of difference in your level of pain. Start counting your calories, and aim for healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks. The bonus: In addition to reducing your pain, your cardiovascular health will benefit.
Take up exercise
Although 59 per cent of people surveyed said their arthritis effects their ability to exercise, it’s important to stay physically active, as exercise is known to help ease arthritis pain. Avoiding it can only lead to weight gain and, potentially, more discomfort. “If you fall into that trap, the vicious cycle is difficult to get out of,” says Haroon. “The goal is to break that cycle.” Choose low-impact activities that are easier on the joints, like swimming or aqua fitness, cycling and aerobics. If you’re walking and have knee problems, choose a soft, even surface, like grass or a treadmill.
Even when you’re not exercising, you should be thinking about the right way to move. If you have arthritis in your knee, for example, then you’ll want to tread carefully on stairs, as climbing steps can stress this joint. If you have arthritis in your hands, opt for tools with larger handles, or medicine bottles with wider caps, so you aren’t closing your hand into a tight fist. Devices like knee braces, elbow splints, grab bars and canes can help you shift your weight in a way that protects your joints.
Get hot or cold
Warmth and cold are both known to ease arthritis pain for different reasons: Heat can encourage tense muscles to relax, while cold can help with inflammation. Most people start with warmth – try a hot compress or a warm bath. If that doesn’t help with your pain, switch to cold, like a freezer gel pack or even a bag of frozen peas. “There is no firm recommendation as to whether warmth or cold is better. It is definitely worth experimenting,” says Haroon.
Try an injection
If your arthritis pain is localized in specific joints, you might want to try getting jabbed. Acupuncture is an approach that seems to make a difference for a subset of people. “I’ve seen patients who get acupuncture, and some say it’s good, while some say no, it doesn’t work,” Haroon says.
If your pain cannot be controlled with a non-prescription medication, you can talk to your healthcare provider about prescription pain relief alternatives.