Managing Arthritis Pain
Health experts agree that arthritis is a leading cause of pain and those who have the debilitating condition would concur with that statement. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, with most causing pain and stiffness in and around the affected joints or tissues, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
About 54 million adults in the United States, or 1 in 4, are affected by arthritis. Besides affecting the joints, arthritis—particularly rheumatoid arthritis—can affect the immune system and internal organs of the body.
Experts do not know what causes arthritis, but the condition can be treated and managed. So, there is hope, if you have arthritis. Making lifestyle changes and following your health provider’s advice is among the first steps to take to handle the challenges of arthritis pain.
Other proven ways that can help manage arthritis pain include:
1. Staying Active
You may think that moving around will make your arthritis pain worse. Surprisingly, health experts say regular physical activity is a natural and effective way to relieve arthritis pain and even your mood. What’s more, physical activity can be anything from raking leaves or gardening to cleaning the house.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity activity.
Medical experts suggest doing gentle, daily stretches that move your joints through their full range of motion. Keep in mind that your activity level will depend on your arthritis symptoms but a little movement is better than nothing.
2. Low-Impact Exercise
Low-impact exercise, which can be a part of your physical activity regimen, decreases arthritis pain and stiffness and improves your range of motion. A low-impact exercise, such as walking, biking, dancing, swimming, and tai chi, does not put too much strain on your joints.
What’s even better, low-impact exercises carry a low risk of sustaining an injury. On the other hand, high-impact activities, like jumping jacks, jogging, or running, can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis—a type of arthritis in which the protective tissue that cushions the ends of bones gradually wears down, causing pain and stiffness.
Health experts suggest talking to your doctor before starting an exercise program. Also, you may be able to find an arthritis exercise class at local senior or community centers.
3. Talking To Your Doctor
You may want to ask your doctor about what type of arthritis you have. Since arthritis can affect different parts of the body, such as the hands, hips, and knees, knowing the type of arthritis you have will help your doctor determine the best treatment for you.
You also may want to talk with your doctor about using over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), and naproxen sodium (Aleve) for pain. Your doctor will advise you on the amount to take since taking over-the-counter medications for more than 10 days in a row is not advised.
Besides oral medication, topical ointments or creams that contain capsaicin can be used on painful joints to relieve pain.
4. Managing Your Weight
Losing weight goes a long way in relieving arthritis pain. For one, the loss of excess weight reduces stress on weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees. Losing as little as 10 to 12 pounds can make a big difference in improving arthritis pain.
5. Taking Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation in the body, particularly on swollen and tender joints. Besides arthritis, studies have also found that omega-3 fatty acids help diabetes, heart health, and brain function.
Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are among the best sources of omega-3 fats. Also rich in omega-3 are flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be taken as supplements.
According to the CDC, it’s not unusual to have pain, stiffness, and swelling when you first start getting active, especially if our starting a new exercise program. So, it may take 6 to 8 weeks for your joints to get used to a new physical activity. But, staying with the activity and continuing lifestyle changes can bring long-term arthritis pain relief and improved quality of life.
Therapeutic Options for Arthritis
Dealing with nagging arthritis pain can eventually affect your mood. Unfortunately, cases of severe prolonged pain can lead to fearful and hopeless thoughts and even depression. At this point, it may be necessary to undergo therapy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, arthritis sufferers have several therapy options to choose from, including:
1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy combines talk therapy with behavior modification that helps you to identify and break cycles of self-defeating thoughts and actions.
2. Relaxation therapy. This type of therapy involves doing your favorite form of relaxation, whether it’s listening to music, doing yoga or writing in a journal.
3. Acupuncture. This form of alternative medicine is commonly used to treat pain and manage stress. Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into specific points on the body. This relieves pain by releasing the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals, called endorphins, and increasing levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.
4. Heat and cold. Using heating pads and ice packs is an age-old remedy for relieving the pain of aching joints, including arthritis flare-ups. Keep in mind that heating pads should not be used any longer than 20 minutes at a time. Whether you use heat or cold packs on your joints, you will welcome the temporary relief.
Another therapy used to relieve arthritis pain is massage therapy. Research shows that a moderate pressure massage stimulates nerves under the skin that sends pain-reducing signals to the brain.
Therapy and other ways of managing arthritis can help you decrease pain, improve or maintain function, and minimize joint damage. Beyond that, staying active can also lead to lower health care costs. But most importantly, practicing proven strategies is key to staying healthy while managing arthritis pain.