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How do I get arthritis pain relief?

While crippling and disability are some of the long term consequences of arthritis, the symptom that patients seek out medical attention for is pain.  This article discusses some general guidelines about arthritis pain relief.

Arthritis pain relief starts with knowing when to rest and when not to.  In the example of a person with osteoarthritis of the knee for example, it has been demonstrated that regular exercise is essential to maintaining strength and flexibility as well as controlling pain.

On the flip side, overdoing exercise can lead to increased pain.  So… the lesson here is that activity and exercise should be increased slowly with medical supervision.

Assistive devices such as corrective shoes, canes, braces, heel wedges or other inserts may reduce pain and delay the need for knee replacement surgery.

Over-the-counter analgesics (acetaminophen) or anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxyn) are also helpful.  Potential side effects such as liver and kidney dysfunction and stomach ulcers must be taken into consideration.

Topical remedies such as capsaicin containing creams may also provide temporary relief.  A new topical agent called Myorx contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory and may be superior to capsaicin creams.

Heat and cold are helpful.  Moist heat is effective for muscle spasm related pain and for situations where inflammation is not a major problem.  When inflammation is evident, ice makes more sense.  Care must be taken to limit the exposure to either heat or ice to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

For supporting and protecting inflamed joints, splints and braces often are very effective.  Use of splints and braces should be used in concert with anti-inflammatory medicine, injections, and physical therapy to prevent the development of loss of joint mobility.

Assistive devices for home use may make activities such as opening jars, turning faucets, reaching for items on the floor much easier and less painful.

Weight loss in patients with osteoarthritis of weight-bearing regions such as the low back, hips, and knees is mandatory for heavy people.

Cortisone injections can provide pain relief when other measures are insufficient.  Injections of hyaluronic acid which is a lubricant may also be effective.

Supplements such as glucosamine/chondroitin (one of the best is Joint Food) and omega 3 oils (a pure form is Sea Gold) can be helpful. Information about Myorx, Joint FoodBusiness Management Articles, and Sea Gold is available at 

Oral anti-inflammatory medicines and narcotic analgesics may also be required.  These should be given by physicians who are skilled in using these drugs.

A transcutaneous nerve stimulator (TENS) unit also is worth a try for people with chronic pain issues. This is a device that a patient wears clipped to their belt.  The device is attached to a sticky electrode that adheres to the skin. The TENS produces a small electric current and blocks pain impulses that travel over peripheral nerves.

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Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR is a rheumatologist and Director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and consultant to the National Institutes of Health. For more info: Arthritis Pain Relief


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