Managing Arthritis: Tips for Pain Relief and Mobility

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August 9, 2023

Imagine waking up every morning, eager to start your day, only to be greeted by pain in your joints and limited mobility. Arthritis, a prevalent condition affecting about 58.5 million people in the United States [1], can have a significant negative impact on one’s daily life. Chronic pain and limited mobility caused by this condition can make the simplest of tasks challenging.

Understanding Arthritis

Arthritis is an umbrella term encompassing many other conditions, including [2]: 

  • Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a generative joint disease that usually affects older adults, but can occur at any age. This condition happens when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears down over time, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced joint mobility. Weight-bearing joints like knees, hips, and spine are typically most affected by this condition, but it can also impact other joints in the body. 
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the joints. It commonly affects smaller joints such as the hands, wrists, and feet, but it can also involve larger joints. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues, primarily targeting the synovium, a thin membrane lining the joints. The inflammation leads to joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and can result in progressive joint damage and deformities. 
  • Gout: Gout is a type of arthritis characterized by sudden and severe painful attacks, redness, and swelling in the joints, most commonly the big toe. It is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, which can be caused by the overproduction or underexcretion of uric acid in the body. Gout attacks often occur unexpectedly and can be triggered by factors such as dietary choices, alcohol consumption, obesity, and certain medications.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs in individuals with psoriasis, a skin condition characterized by red, scaly patches. It causes joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, and can affect any joint in the body. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause changes in the nails and inflammation in other areas of the body, such as the eyes and tendons.
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis: Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory type of arthritis that specifically affects the spine and sacroiliac joints. It causes pain and stiffness in the back and may lead to fusion of the vertebrae over time, resulting in decreased spinal flexibility. This condition can also affect other joints, such as the hips, shoulders, and knees.

These conditions differ in their causes and specific symptoms, but they all share two common characteristics: joint pain and discomfort. By familiarizing ourselves with the different types and symptoms of arthritis, we can better address our personal needs and develop tailored treatment plans for pain management. 

Tips for Arthritis Pain Relief

  • Medication [3]
    • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), which help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
    • Topical creams and ointments, which help provide localized arthritis pain relief to specific areas.
    • Steroids, which can help alleviate severe joint pain and inflammation through injections.
    • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)  are a class of medications used primarily for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune forms of arthritis. These drugs work by suppressing the immune system to slow down the progression of the disease, reduce inflammation, and prevent joint damage. 
    • Biologic response modifiers are a type of DMARD that specifically target certain components of the immune system involved in arthritis inflammation. They are often prescribed for moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis when other treatments have not provided sufficient relief. Biologic medications are administered through injections or infusions.
    • Analgesics, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), can provide arthritis pain relief. They work by blocking pain signals in the brain, but they do not reduce inflammation. Analgesics are often used for milder arthritis pain relief or in combination with other medications.
  • Natural Remedies and Alternative Therapies [4]
    • Heat therapy, or applying heat to affected joints, can help reduce stiffness and lessen pain. 
    • Cold therapy, which involves applying ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables wrapped in towels to the affected area, can help numb the area and reduce swelling. 
    • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive therapy that involves using a device to deliver low-voltage electrical currents to the skin. The electrical stimulation can help block pain signals and provide temporary arthritis pain relief. TENS units are available for at-home use. Ask your doctor for specific instructions if you think TENS is right for you!
    • Acupuncture is an ancient practice that involves the careful insertion of thin needles into specific points of the body to relieve pain and promote healing. 
    • Herbal supplements, like turmeric, ginger, and Boswellia, have anti-inflammatory properties that may provide relief of symptoms. 
  • Lifestyle Modifications 
    • Exercise can help strengthen muscles, improve joint flexibility, and reduce pain. Low-impact exercises, like yoga or cycling, are most suitable for seniors and individuals with arthritis. 
    • Weight management ensures that you maintain a healthy weight, which helps reduce stress on the joints. This minimizes pain and slows down the progression of arthritis. 
    • Stress reduction techniques, like meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing, can help lessen arthritis symptoms and improve overall quality of life. 
    • Home modifications, like using ergonomic furniture with proper support, installing grab bars in bathrooms, and utilizing handrails on staircases, will help improve safety and ease movement. 
    • Healthy sleep is essential for managing arthritis symptoms. Fatigue can worsen pain and decrease your ability to cope with daily activities. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a comfortable sleep environment, and practice relaxation techniques before bed to promote better sleep.
  • Joint Protection Techniques 
    • Discovering how to protect your joints during daily activities and responsibilities can help reduce pain and prevent further damage. Use proper body mechanics, such as lifting with your legs instead of your back, to avoid putting excessive stress on your joints. Utilize assistive devices like jar openers, reachers, or ergonomic tools to minimize joint strain. It may make more of a difference than you think!
  • Splints or Braces
    • Wearing splints or braces can help support and stabilize the affected joint, reducing pain. These devices can help immobilize or protect the joint, which will reduce strain and allow for better healing. 

Managing and treating arthritis requires an approach that combines medical treatments, lifestyle modifications, and self-care strategies. By utilizing the tips and techniques discussed previously, you can take proactive steps toward arthritis pain relief and improve your mobility. 

Remember, your senior healthcare provider knows best on how to develop a personalized plan that suits your specific needs for the type of arthritis you have. Don’t let arthritis define you and your life — embrace the journey of managing arthritis and living life to the fullest! Contact Greater Good Health or find a primary care clinic near you to get started with personalized senior-focused primary care for arthritis.