More than 1 in 8 Americans deal with chronic pain due to arthritis and related conditions. That’s over 36 million sufferers nationwide. Over-the-counter and prescription pain medication and anti-inflammatories can play a role in pain management, particularly when arthritis pain is occasional. When stiffness and aches persist, prolonged use of these drugs may create problems of their own.
There are alternatives to pills, and today, there are more options than ever for controlling pain, although sometimes the most effective solutions remain those that are simple and time-tested. Some alternatives use medications in non-pill form, and some are completely drug-free. Here’s a look at some arthritis pain management techniques you may wish to add to your own bag of tricks.
The power of warm water
Most of us know of the relaxing and restorative effects of a warm bath. Warm water therapy effectively treats aches and pains for a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions including arthritis, back pain, and fibromyalgia, as well as discomfort from overwork, strains, and sprains. One of the secrets is warm — not hot — water, in the 92° to 100° F range. Warmer water can interfere with cardiovascular conditions. Maximum benefits of warm water therapy peak at about 20 minutes, and you can extend the benefits of warm water by including movement whenever possible. Work sore joints through their range of motion underwater. Locating a warm water pool that offers exercise programs could help you reduce arthritis pain by as much as 40%, say some people who work out this way three times a week.
The activity conundrum
It’s a natural reaction when we feel pain to avoid movement that causes it, instinctively trying to avoid further injury or aggravation. When arthritis pain occurs, you may be tempted to sit until the pain passes. Yet for many people with arthritis, increasing gentle, low-impact activity is a fast track to pain relief. While it may seem counterintuitive, more activity is likely going to reduce levels of pain, increase flexibility, and lessen further deterioration.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends following the S.M.A.R.T. model for physical activity:
- Start low, go slow
- Modify activities when arthritis symptoms increase but you should also stay active
- Activities should be joint-friendly
- Recognize safe ways and places to be active
- Talk with an arthritis care specialist or physiotherapist
Approach medications from the outside
Instead of turning to pills, whose active components spread to all points of your body through your bloodstream, try medications in topical form, which often deliver these active ingredients directly to where the arthritis hurts. Available in gels, creams, and patches, two effective drug classes for common arthritis pain are sodium channel blockers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). Sodium channel blockers, such as prilocaine and lidocaine, act on nerve endings, numbing the sensations that originate there. NSAIDs penetrate the skin to target inflammation below the surface. Relieving inflammation often takes pain away as well.
Acupuncture, meditation, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) are three examples of alternative therapies that may prove effective against arthritis pain. Even changing your footwear can redistribute body weight, taking pressure off knees and hips. Much of the relief you need can depend on the unique conditions that create your arthritis pain. If you have trouble finding effective pain relief, contact my office, by phone or online, to request a consultation.