Living with arthritis can be a rollercoaster — both physically and emotionally. Many people with arthritis experience bouts of significant pain and inflammation, followed by periods of disease inactivity. Not knowing when arthritis pain will flare up can reduce your quality of life and take its toll on your mental health.
Being able to manage arthritis pain effectively is key to preventing debilitating symptoms from affecting your daily life. If you’re looking for a toolbox of arthritis management techniques, here are six proven ways to help ease pain and inflammation caused by arthritis.
The most commonly recommended method of managing arthritis pain is through physical activity. Unfortunately, the relationship between arthritis and exercise is a bit of a vicious circle — to reduce pain, you need to stay active, but arthritis pain often prevents people from exercising.
One of the main reasons to pursue physical activity is that it encourages weight loss. Losing extra pounds takes the unnecessary strain off your joints, allowing them to heal and strengthen. Additional benefits of exercise for arthritis include:
- Increases your body’s natural supply of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving substances
- Releases endorphins to boost your mood and reduce the emotional effects of living with arthritis
- Improves your range of motion to counter the immobility people with arthritis can face.
- Reduces your chance of developing other health complications that people with arthritis tend to be at risk of, like heart disease and diabetes
Even just a bit of movement can make a difference. According to the Mayo Clinic, the best types of exercise for arthritis are those that build muscle strength around your joints, protecting them from further damage. People with arthritis should take on low-impact activities like swimming, yoga and walking, and avoid high-impact activities like running and tennis, which can hurt the joints.
Diet and exercise are the one-two punch of all healthy lifestyles, especially for people with arthritis. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a degenerative form of arthritis, like osteoarthritis, or an immune-related disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, diet can play an important role in managing your condition.
One study from 2017 examined the effect that diet and exercise might have on overweight patients with osteoarthritis in the knee. The researchers found that those who underwent a diet and exercise program compared to just an exercise program alone had significantly lower inflammation markers after losing weight over an 18-month period.
This study highlights the correlation between diet, weight loss and inflammation. People with arthritis may experience fewer inflammatory symptoms by losing weight via diet and exercise.
But diet has other benefits for arthritis management too. Like exercise, a proper diet also helps to reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases that commonly co-occur with arthritis. A healthy and balanced diet also ensures you’re getting enough essential nutrients needed to maintain strong bones, muscles and organ systems.
While diet is highly personal, there is some universal advice that arthritis experts promote. A diet that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce inflammation and disease activity.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice based on the belief that the human body contains an energy life force called Qi, which gets blocked at certain points throughout the body. According to the tradition, by stimulating these blockages with inserted needles, your vital energy begins to freeflow, alleviating the symptoms you were feeling.
While acupuncture hasn’t been heavily studied in a scientific context, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence provided by patients that acupuncture does help relieve specific symptoms, including arthritis pain, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Today’s limited scientific research supports that there may be several mechanisms involved in acupuncture’s effectiveness. Rather than Qi energy, scientists agree that inserting acupuncture needles at specific points throughout the body does send nerve signals along the spinal cord and into the brain, where pain-killing neurotransmitters are released.
A handful of studies have found that an acupuncture program has offered significant pain-relief among arthritis patients. Many people who undergo acupuncture report no only that it improves their direct arthritis symptoms (pain, inflammation and stiffness), but it also improves other issues, such as fatigue and poor sleep quality.
Relaxation is a useful practice for managing diseases like arthritis, as stress induces inflammatory reactions in the body. Meditation, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are mindfulness-based practices that help put your body into a resting state, countering your body’s stress response.
As your stress drops, your inflammation levels and tension decrease, which may help alleviate pain. Additionally, mindfulness meditation can help people cope with chronic illness by addressing emotional and mental health. Meditation has been shown to help reduce anxiety, alleviate depression and promote deeper, more restful sleep. All of these benefits can help people with arthritis increase their overall quality of life and make their condition less debilitating.
Research shows that even a few minutes of day of quiet mindfulness can help reduce acute stress and pain response. Meditation isn’t for everyone, but it’s safe to try if you’re interested in how it works. There are many different techniques you can try to find the one that’s right for you. With today’s guided meditation apps, you can access certified meditation trainers who can help you learn the proper techniques to practice mindfulness in a way that will lead to greater potential benefits.
5. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is a safe and relaxing therapeutic approach to arthritis pain management. During a massage, a licensed therapist uses techniques to manipulate your tissues and muscles, gently encouraging you to release deep tension.
Gentle massage therapy also boosts circulation throughout your tissues, muscles and joints. With increased blood flow, your joints will be able to receive much-needed nutrients and oxygen to promote repair and reduce inflammation. During relaxing massage therapy, your body also releases feel-good hormones to boost mood and decrease anxiety.
The benefits of massage therapy for arthritis include:
- Improving range of motion and flexibility
- Alleviating pain and soreness
- Improving mental and emotional well-being
Regular massage therapy can help encourage a lifestyle of greater wellness and less stress, which is important for people living with arthritis. Self-massage and massage devices can also help you achieve deep relaxation from home.
6. Hot and Cold Therapy
Hot and cold therapy is one of the most common self-management tools for arthritis pain recommended by massage and physical therapists, as well as chiropractors. Hot and cold therapy is a simple, effective and affordable way to address arthritis pain and inflammation as it arises or to keep symptoms at bay.
Hot therapy is the use of warmth to soothe sore muscles and joints. You can apply a hot water bottle or use a heating pad to warm up and loosen stiff joints. Another approach is to take a warm bath or hot shower first thing in the morning when arthritis symptoms are particularly active.
On the other hand, cold therapy addresses swelling and inflammation. Using a gel ice pack, apply the cold therapy to inflamed joints—but not directly to bare skin. The cold will also help numb the area and reduce the sensation of pain. Try both hot and cold therapies to find which one works best for you.
For either option, apply your compress multiple 2-3 times a day for up to 20 minutes per session. Whether using hot or cold therapy, be sure to avoid extremes — high heat can hurt your skin, and freezing cold can also be uncomfortable.
Ease Arthritis Pain With Solutions From Relax The Back
If you’re looking for ways to manage your arthritis pain, these six holistic therapies may help you achieve relief and improve your overall well-being. For additional support in managing your arthritis symptoms daily, try pain-relief and wellness solutions from Relax The Back:
- Bed Wedges: Improve your rest and sleep quality with memory foam bed wedges for night time relaxation. Bed wedges create a personalized level of comfort, giving you adjustable control over your spinal position so you can relax more deeply. Position your bed wedge in an upright, lying down or zero gravity position and feel your tension melt away.
- Handheld Massagers: Alleviate stiffness and improve your range of motion with handheld massagers and massage therapy tools. These portable massage devices allow you to administer self-massage to relieve pain from your back, neck or hips. Bring your massager with you on the go to improve your travel comfort.
- Zero Gravity Recliners: Relieve arthritis pain and find deep relaxation in a zero gravity recliner from Relax The Back. By supporting you in a neutral posture, zero gravity recliners alleviate pressure points along your spine and within your joints, helping to relieve stress from arthritis. Zero gravity recliners from Relax The Back have several features to choose from, including massage, heat and other personalized settings to meet your relaxation needs.