Will physical activity reduce or increase arthritis pain? Get tips on physical activity and other common concerns related to managing arthritis symptoms and pain.
Arthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability worldwide. You can find many tips on relieving arthritis pain and other conditions with exercise, meditation, and stress reduction techniques. How do you know what will do you good?
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you figure it out.
Whatever your condition, it will be easier to stay ahead of your pain if you:
- Learn as much as you can about your condition, including what type of arthritis you have and whether any of your joints are already damaged
- Get your doctor, friends and family to help you manage your pain.
- You tell your doctor if your pain changes.
Pay attention to your joints, whether you are sitting, standing or active.
- Keep your joints moving. Do gentle stretches daily that move your joints through their full range of motion.
- Maintain good posture. A physical therapist can show you how to sit, stand and move correctly.
- Know your limits. Strike a balance between activity and rest, and don’t overdo it.
In addition, lifestyle changes are essential for pain relief.
- Control your weight. Being overweight can increase arthritis complications and contribute to arthritis pain. Generally, making permanent gradual lifestyle changes that result in progressive weight loss is often the most effective method of weight control.
- Stop smoking. Smoking causes stress on connective tissue, which can increase arthritis pain.
When you have arthritis, moving can help decrease pain and stiffness, improve range of motion, strengthen muscles, and increase endurance.
What to do
Choose the right kind of activity – those that strengthen the muscles around your joints but don’t damage them. A doctor or occupational therapist can help you work out an exercise program that is right for you.
Focus on stretching, range-of-motion exercises and gradual, progressive muscle strengthening. Include low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling or water exercise, to improve mood and control weight.
What to avoid
Avoid high-impact, repetitive-motion activities, such as the following:
- High-impact aerobic exercises
- Repeating the same motion, such as a tennis serve, over and over again.
There are many types of medications available for arthritis pain relief. Most are relatively safe, but no medication is guaranteed to be free of side effects. Talk with your doctor to work out a medication plan for your specific pain symptoms.
What to do
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol or others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB or others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), can help relieve occasional pain caused by activities that your muscles and joints are not used to (such as doing yard work after spending the winter indoors).
To relieve pain, you can apply capsaicin cream to the skin over the sore joint. You can use it alone or with oral medications.
Consult your doctor if over-the-counter medications do not relieve the pain.
What to avoid
- Overtreatment. Talk to your doctor if you notice that you take over-the-counter pain relievers regularly.
- Undertreatment. Don’t try to ignore prolonged, severe pain from arthritis. You could have joint damage or inflammation that requires daily medications.
- Focusing only on the pain. Depression is more common in people with arthritis. Doctors have found that treating depression with antidepressants and other therapies reduces symptoms of depression and reduces pain from arthritis.
- Physical and emotional integration
- Not surprisingly, arthritis pain has a negative effect on mood. If everyday activities cause you pain, you are likely to feel discouraged. However, when these normal sensations intensify and create a constant repetition of thoughts of fear or hopelessness, the pain can worsen and become more challenging to control.
What to do
Therapies that interrupt destructive interactions between the body and mind include the following:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy. This practical and well-studied combination of talk therapy and behaviour modification helps you identify and break cycles of self-destructive actions and thoughts.
- Relaxation therapy. Meditate, do yoga, practise deep breathing, listen to music, get in touch with nature, write in a journal-do anything that helps you relax. There is no downside to relaxation, and it can help relieve pain.
- Acupuncture. Some people get pain relief through acupuncture treatments, in which a trained acupuncturist inserts hair-thin needles into specific points on the body. It may take several weeks before you notice the effects.
- Heat and cold. You can temporarily relieve pain with heat by using heating pads on sore joints, or you can also take hot baths or showers or soak painful joints in warm kerosene. Be careful not to burn yourself. Use the heating pads for up to 20 minutes at a time.
You can relieve pain and inflammation with cold after strenuous exercise, for example, by using ice packs on sore muscles.
Massage. Massage can improve pain and stiffness momentarily. Make sure the massage therapist knows which parts of your body are affected by arthritis.
What to avoid
- Smoking. If you are addicted to tobacco, you may use it as an emotional coping tool. However, it’s counterproductive: the toxins in smoke cause stress on connective tissue, leading to more joint problems.
- A negative attitude. Negative thoughts perpetuate themselves. As you dwell on them, they will intensify, increasing pain and the risk of disability. Instead, distract yourself with activities you enjoy, spend time with supportive people and consider seeing a therapist.