Managing arthritis pain

Dealing with persistent, severe pain from arthritis means utilizing a combination of therapeutic strategies. While medications certainly play a role in reducing and coping with pain, experts say other activities can help to improve joint function — and help people deal with the emotional stresses of living with arthritis.

Here are some simple pain management strategies to try at home.


In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, patients were told one-liners after surgery and before painful medication was administered. Those exposed to humor perceived less pain when compared to patients who didn’t get a dose of humor as part of their therapy. Laughter — particularly belly laughter — can result in muscle relaxation and releases hormones associated with stress response.

What does this mean for the arthritis sufferer? A daily dose of laughter may help to ease pain, and stave off depression. Look for comedies to rent, joke websites, and friends and family members to provide sources of laughter.

Heat and cold

Applying heat to muscles or cold to swollen jints can help ease pain and inflammation. For many people, alternating heat and cold works well. But each person is different so arthritis sufferers will need to experiment. Before beginning, it’s important to check with a physician, as some conditions might mean one or the other is inappropriate.

Types of heat applications include heat lamps, heating pads, hot water bottles, and gel packs. Types of cold applications include bags of frozen vegetables, or ice wrapped in a towel, cold packs, and vapocoolant sprays.


Relaxation not only helps to release muscles tense from pain, it also encourages the body to release pain-relieving endorphins — the same hormones that are released in laughter. A successful relaxation technique will stimulate this release.

Relaxation techniques can be learned on one’s own, but consulting a health professional such as a doctor, therapist, or physical therapist may be the quickest route to finding one that is effective. It’s helpful to learn a technique that doesn’t depend too much on outside aids, other than a darkened room, peace and quiet, and a comfortable place to sit or lie down.


Research shows that a properly designed exercise program can improve joint health and also help to decrease pain. It can also be a great boost to the spirits! Be sure to consult with a doctor or physiotherapist to make sure the activity is appropriate. Swimming, stretching programs, t’ai chi, yoga, and walking can be beneficial for people with arthritis.


It’s a vicious cycle — lack of sleep can exacerbate pain, and pain can keep sleep at bay. But chronic fatigue really does contribute to pain, so prioritizing sleep where possible is key to quality of life.

Suggestions for ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep include: keep regular hours, avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially close to bed time, and use your bed for sleep only — don’t pile it high with articles on how to sleep.


The old adage to keep busy rather than dwell on pain actually contains a measure of truth. Although it can be difficult to concentrate on other things while in pain, studies have shown that distraction actually does help reduce the experience of pain by patients.

Distraction can range from enjoying films or television to participating in activities that focus concentration and absorb energy and attention. Cooking, playing games, or reading are simple ways to turn one’s attention to something else. And if some of those activities are social, so much the better — isolation can lead to depression.

For more information on managing arthritis pain see:
The Arthritis Society: Managing Chronic Pain
Arthritis Foundation: Managing Your Pain
American Pain Foundation

Photo © kali9

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