Do you suffer from pain caused by arthritis? Here are ways to reduce and manage this pain.
Acute versus chronic pain
Acute pain is often the result of some type of damage to the body, in response to an injury or a surgical intervention for example. This type of pain plays a protective role. If you sprain your ankle, your brain will perceive the pain and send out a signal for you to take appropriate action – in this case, to stop putting weight on your ankle.
Pain is said to be chronic when it lasts more than three months. It can be intermittent or constant (more than 12 hours each day). Arthritis, lower back pain and fibromyalgia are the most common causes of chronic pain.
Preventing arthritis pain
Arthritic diseases typically involve pain and loss of mobility in the joints affected, both of which can significantly disrupt a person’s day-to-day life. While there is no cure, there are prevention and management strategies to help people stay active and maintain their quality of life.
- Be on the lookout for the first signs of the disease (mild pain and morning stiffness occurring intermittently).
- Follow an exercise program with the support of a professional, such as a kinesiologist or a physiotherapist.
- Maintain or attain a healthy body weight to alleviate pressure on your joints.
- Avoid undue effort when using your joints and be mindful of your posture.
- Limit physical activity when the pain is at its worst.
- When you need to, use assistive devices, such as orthoses, splints and braces.
Your pain management options
Over-the-counter medications are usually the first line of treatment for pain. The general recommendation is to start with acetaminophen. If this is not sufficient, it can be combined or replaced with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen.
Always consult your doctor or family pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter drug or natural product.
The second line of treatment is recourse to more powerful NSAID (naproxen) and Cox-2 selective inhibiters (celecoxib, meloxicam ) available by prescription.
Localized treatment options
Medications that can be injected directly into arthritic joints are also available:
- Corticosteroids, which are administered into a joint to reduce swelling and pain.
- Hyaluronate, which is injected into the knee to improve cartilage lubrication and boost its shock-absorbing abilities.
- Pennsaid® (diclofenac solution), a topical anti-inflammatory drug, which is applied to alleviate pain and swelling in the knees.
Natural health products
Natural health products do not replace other therapeutic pain management options; they complement them. The Arthritis Society includes glucosamine and chondroitin among complementary therapies, but also suggests ceasing their use if no improvement is noted after three months.
Heat therapy can also help alleviate pain. Simply apply a heat pad (e.g. a Magic Bag or hot water bottle) to the painful area 10 to 15 minutes every 1 to 2 hours for a few days. A hot bath (not scolding) can also provide some relief.
Various cognitive techniques can also be practised to break the pain cycle. Muscle relaxation exercises can help minimize the pain of certain movements, making them easier to carry out, while general relaxation techniques can lower the level of stress caused by pain.
Finally, people with arthritis also need to work on preventing fatigue, one of the common symptoms of chronic pain. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to regenerating the body and mind.
Special pill bottles
There are pill bottles specially designed to be easy to open. Just ask your family pharmacist about this option. Bear in mind, however, that these bottles are not childproof.
Your family pharmacist can support you in your pain management efforts. Ask for advice! He or she can help you evaluate the intensity of your pain to see how well your drug treatment is working and, if need be, recommend adjustments to it.