Expert answers: The best ways to target arthritis pain

Jun 03, 2019
There's no cure for most types of arthritis and managing pain is one of the key ways people live with the disease. Source: Getty

With more than 100 types of arthritis affecting millions of people around the world it can be difficult to pin down an effective treatment that works for everyone.

People experience pain in different ways and treatments for arthritis vary, which is why pain relief and treatment plans are prescribed on a case-by-case basis.

Researchers are yet to find a cure for most forms of the disease, but some medications and lifestyle changes can reduce the pain and prevent flare-ups from occurring as regularly.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 300 million people worldwide, and occurs when there’s not enough synovial fluid in a joint. This results in the cartilage wearing away, causing the bones to rub against each other, worsening pain for those living with it and limiting movement.

Because there are only limited medications to help relieve osteoarthritis pain, lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet and weight management are key to easing the condition.

The same goes for those living with other common types of arthritis, such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which cause pain, inflammation and limited movement.

While gout can be completely cured if caught early enough, millions of people aren’t so lucky and are forced to find other ways to manage painful flare-ups that occur when uric acid builds up in the bloodstream, causing inflammation and swelling in the toes, ankles and hands.

Some medications can prevent gout attacks by reducing uric acid levels, but experts also recommend weight management and reduced alcohol intake to help reduce the frequency of attacks.

Those living with rheumatoid arthritis should first seek help from a rheumatologist who can prescribe medications to deal with the pain and advise on which lifestyle changes could provide the most benefits.

Daily stretching can reduce pain, but should be done as part of a bigger treatment plan.
Daily stretching can reduce pain, but should be done as part of a wider treatment plan. Source: iStock

According to the experts, exercise is one of the most effective ways to treat most forms arthritis naturally and can drastically improve mobility and reduce pain in the long term.

While it may seem counterintuitive to many living with painful arthritis, CEO Arthritis Australia Andrew Mills says doing the right type of exercise will help improve mobility and flexibility of joints, which can ultimately lead to less pain.

“The take home message is keep moving. Keep physically active,” Mills tells Starts at 60. “Physical activity will not make things worse, it will make things better.”

While there’s no denying some people may need to work through some initial pain when they first start exercising, activities such as walking, muscle-strengthening exercises, Thai chi, cycling, yoga and swimming are some of the best ways to improve mobility and reduce pain in the long term. Those who are overweight may find water-based activities in warm water particularly helpful because there’s less impact on the joints.

“Regardless of age and really regardless of the disease severity, exercise is strongly recommended,” Mills says, adding that many people suffer in silence because they’re afraid of doing damage through exercise.

Other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy weight can also help manage arthritis pain, but Mills warns against some of the more dubious claims on the internet.

While some foods and supplements promise to reduce inflammation and pain, Mills says there’s simply not enough evidence to prove diet can ease arthritis pain. Instead, a nutritious diet can be used to keep weight at a healthy level to reduce the pressure on joints.

No one food will reduce arthritis pain and it's better to maintain a healthy weight to reduce the impact on the bones and joints.
No one food will reduce arthritis pain and it’s better to maintain a healthy weight to reduce the impact on the bones and joints. Source: Pixabay

Heat therapies can also be useful for some forms of arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis.

“Hot packs or heat packs can be used as a self-management strategy for home for people with knee or hip in particular.” Mills says. “There’s no harm or no adverse effect, but people should just be careful about the risks of burns and may not want to use them if they’ve got open wounds somewhere or healing.”

Similarly, daily stretching can reduce pain, but should be done in addition to other treatments. Arthritis Australia says massage and acupuncture can also offer pain relief for some people but there’s not enough evidence to definitively recommend it to all arthritis patients.

One of the most crucial elements in managing arthritis pain is to get on top of it as soon as symptoms present. This way health professionals can diagnose exactly which type of arthritis a person is living with and the best way to treat it going forward.

Do you have arthritis? What are your top tips to reducing pain?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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