Managing Arthritis Pain – Medications and Lifestyle Strategies

Managing Arthritis Pain – Medications and Lifestyle Strategies

Arthritis can be an enormous health challenge, yet effective pain management strategies can help you live with and manage the disease while staying active.

Medication such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may provide temporary relief of arthritis pain, while creams containing capsaicin may also help.

Exercise can be the ideal long-term strategy for managing arthritis, and Hinge Health physical therapists can devise an exercise therapy plan for you to follow at home.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Food choices have an enormous effect on chronic inflammation levels in your body, either increasing it or helping reduce it. Some foods stimulate it while others help combat it – for instance tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits, olive oil and fatty fish are excellent anti-inflammatory sources; leafy greens, peas and beans, whole grains and unsweetened beverages also contain anti-inflammatory nutrients that may reduce symptoms.

Eating a variety of foods can increase antioxidant intake and help lower inflammation while protecting cartilage damage. Reducing processed sugar consumption and saturated fat consumption (such as from red meat, full-fat dairy products or processed oils) may also help ameliorate symptoms.

Apple cider vinegar and manuka honey are touted as arthritis-fighting supplements, but scientific evidence doesn’t support their claims. You should consult your physician before making dietary changes. Acupuncture and massage therapy may provide additional pain relief; both therapies reduce stiffness while improving mobility and flexibility; regular, low-impact exercise also help.

Physical Activity

Exercise can help relieve pain and stiffness, strengthen muscles around joints, improve mood and help manage weight. But finding low-impact activities such as walking and swimming that are gentle on joints is important; such as for example meditated creams containing lidocaine or capsaicin to alter nerve signals send to pain receptors can alter nerve pain signals; other ingredients that could aid pain management include menthol or camphor.

CDC guidelines advise engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week – such as walking, gardening and other low-impact exercises such as Pilates.

Before embarking on any exercise program, it is wise to first consult your physician. People living with arthritis should also work closely with a physical therapist who can create a tailored exercise program focusing on stretching, range-of-motion exercises and progressive strength training. If your pain is severe and interferes with daily activities, consult with your physician regarding medications; NSAIDs are the most widely prescribed NSAIDs may be available over-the-counter or through prescription. There are also DMARDs which work by decreasing or stopping immune system attacks against joints and which come either as pills or injections.

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy can be highly beneficial as it raises tissue temperatures and boosts circulation, soothing stiff joints and relaxing tight muscles while decreasing build-up of lactic acid waste that causes sore muscles. When using low-level heat treatments it’s essential that only safe temperatures are used that fit with your skin type and condition.

Heat therapy can be applied via heating pads, hot water bottles or steamed washcloths. Moist heat sources like baths or wraps with eucalyptus oil or capsicum (found in rubs and patches available over-the-counter) work better for treating deep pain as it penetrates deeper into tissue layers and alleviates muscle spasms more effectively.

Nonprescription anti-inflammatory medications like Tylenol(r), Ibuprofen(r) (Advil, Motrin or other brands), and Naproxen(r) can help relieve arthritis pain. Topical options available for topical treatment may also help such as diclofenac (Voltaren Emulgel(r). For more information about these medicines please see the Medications section starting on page 4.


Sleep can be an especially difficult challenge for those suffering from arthritis pain. Sleep deprivation can worsen pain and stiffness, while medications to manage arthritis may impede the ability to fall asleep easily.

Research suggests that physical activity and sleep have an important impact on pain reduction and quality of life for adults living with arthritis, offering potential improvements for these individuals. A combined sleep/exercise program could offer the greatest chance for progress.

Eileen is living with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia and stresses the importance of taking steps to ensure restful nights. She finds simple strategies such as taking naps during the day or using pillows to prop up joints useful; also setting her medication schedule so it will give maximum relief at bedtime; she recommends trying different approaches such as meditation apps to relax before sleep.

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