Managing Arthritis Pain

Health, Home & Family
on May 5, 2002

Arthritis pain comes in many forms. For some, its that occasional twinge of discomfort in one knee. For others, painful aches in almost every joint never go away.

More than 100 different types of arthritis affect 43 million Americans, says the Arthritis Foundation. Nearly half suffer from osteoarthritis, which results from the breakdown of joint cartilage. Though medicines help control the pain and swelling, experts agree that creating your own pain management plan also is essential.

Its important to self-manage the disease and take an active role in the care of your arthritis, says Shannon Mescher, vice president of programs and services at the Arthritis Foundation. There are so many non-medicinal options out there, you really have to experiment with different pain management techniques to see what works best for you.

One technique is the use of heat and cold. Heat relaxes muscles and stimulates blood circulation, while cold numbs the sore area and helps reduce swelling and inflammation. A cold pack may work better for you, and a heat pad or a warm bath may work better for me, so try different treatments and decide for yourself, Mescher advises.

For a quick, inexpensive cold treatment, grab a bag of frozen peas or corn from the freezer and apply it to the aching joint. Dont exceed 20 minutes for either type treatment at a time.

Massage also can soothe pain. You can practice self-massage or seek out a certified massage therapist experienced with arthritis sufferers. In doing self-massage, stop if you feel any pain and avoid massaging a swollen joint.

The mind is a powerful tool in pain management. Relaxation and distraction techniques can be very effective, Mescher says. When you feel pain, try to take yourself out of the situation mentally by watching a movie, reading a book, or participating in any activity you find enjoyable. Meditation and prayer also are effective, studies have shown.

Finally, maintaining a healthy weight through sensible diet and exercise is essential. Every extra pound translates to added stress on the knees and hips. A fitness program that includes cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises is recommended.

For more information, call the Arthritis Foundation at (800) 283-7800 or visit its website at