Over 26% of Americans suffer from arthritis pain. And while there are medications for reducing arthritis pain, many patients want relief from their pain without taking pills.
Fortunately, treatment options are evolving and arthritis patients have the ability to decide their treatment path alongside their physicians. Having options means creating a treatment plan that fits the patient’s lifestyle, needs, and wants and corresponds to the severity of their pain.
Commonly, a combination of treatments is most effective for alleviating pain.
Treatment Options for Arthritis Pain
- Physical Therapy
Pain specialists often recommend physical therapy to ease arthritis pain. This type of exercise helps strengthen muscles, reduces joint stiffness, and improves range of motion. Your physical therapist will create an exercise plan to improve your ability to perform daily activities like walking, standing, climbing stairs, and getting in and out of the bathtub.
Physical therapy does not always reduce pain in all arthritis patients, but it can help strengthen the ligaments and muscles that support joints and bones causing pain.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
All pain is transferred along small fibers of the nervous system. Those fibers travel from the affected area to the brain where the pain is perceived. What Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation does is transmit a signal that masks the pain signals. The electrical current triggers the brain to release endorphins and enkephalins, opiate-like chemicals in the body that relieve pain.
TENS effectively treats any kind of arthritis pain.
- Trigger Point Injections
Trigger points are hard “knots” of painful muscles. When arthritis causes muscle pain, trigger points are a common symptom. These injections consist of anesthesia and corticosteroid that is injected into the painful trigger points. Inserting a needle into the bundle of painful muscles allows the muscle tissue to go back to its normal structure.
- Heat/Cold Therapy
Heat and cold therapy is a temporary fix, but may relieve pain. Heat increases blood flow to the painful area and relaxes the muscles. Cold reduces swelling and inflammation. Cold sensations travel on large nerve fibers, whereas pain signals travel on small nerve fibers. This masks the pain signals.
Heat should be applied two or three times a day for 15-minute intervals. Cold compresses can be applied three or four times a day for 15-minute intervals or until the swelling has reduced.
- Mind-Body Relaxation Techniques
Learning techniques that help relax your body and your mind can help manage your pain. There is a psychological aspect of chronic pain that can be controlled through the use of meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, and relaxation. These methods help decrease stress, therefore decreasing inflammation and pain. Meditating for 20 minutes a day helps relax muscles that tense up with pain.
Breathing exercises have been associated with a decrease in depression, another common symptom of chronic pain like arthritis. Mind-body techniques work on focusing your mind and harnessing negative thoughts that can increase your perception of pain. Practicing meditation and regular relaxation techniques reduce the brain’s response to pain.
MayoClinic: Arthritis Treatment