Joint pain, also called rheumatic pain, is a common medical problem, ranking among the most frequent reasons that people visit their medical providers. When pain occurs, most people’s first reaction is to think “arthritis.” Although, this is a natural response, often joint or muscle pain is due to something other than arthritis. Other structures that surround the joint—such as the tendon, bursa, or muscle—are often the source of the pain.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammation of a joint Over time, this inflammation can lead to the breakdown of the protective surface surrounding a joint. This deterioration can lead to chronic pain and cause a loss of function.
When Is Joint Pain Serious?
If joint pain occurs with fever and sudden, significant swelling in many joints, or if you feel severe pain, you should consult the doctor. If you feel pain without swelling or fever, it is generally safe to wait and see what happens.
Steps for easing arthritis pain
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra, or a generic) very effectively control pain. Acetaminophen, like any medicine, must be taken over time to determine its effectiveness. Therapeutic doses can be as high as two extra-strength tablets three to four times daily. This dose may need to be used for several days before determining whether it will be effective for long-term treatment.
Acetaminophen’s advantage is that most people can tolerate it. It is known for being gentle to the stomach. Acetaminophen does not cause gastrointestinal problems.
Medicines that relieve pain and decrease inflammation are called anti-inflammatory drugs These include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium all of which are available over the counter. Anti-inflammatories are effective pain relievers and have the added advantage of decreasing modest levels of inflammation, which usually helps decrease pain.
Anti-inflammatory medications have more side effects than simple pain relievers. The biggest concern is ulcers or bleeding from the stomach. These problems occur more frequently in patients with a history of ulcers, elderly patients, those with other underlying illness, or those who are also taking other medicines. Some anti-inflammatories may also cause stomach upset. However, these side effects are relatively uncommon.
Some assistive devices support painful areas or improve function in affected joints. The range of options is very broad. Wrist splints cut down wrist movement, which often relieves pain caused by arthritis, tendinitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Tennis elbow straps often decrease pain by altering the mechanical stresses of the injured tendon, and padded arch supports and heel pads decrease various kinds of foot pain. Examples of other devices include doorknob extenders, enlarged handle grips for silverware, adjustable canes, and special pillows to support the neck while sleeping.
Many people are interested in using diet to control disease. A well-balanced diet .
Maintaining your ideal body weight is also a key to better health and can be very useful to treat arthritis. Carrying extra pounds increases the wear and strain on painful arthritic joints.
Also, some foods may affect arthritis symptoms. Fish oils can cut down on inflammation that often comes with rheumatoid arthritis. Studies suggest that fairly high doses are needed to achieve this effect, and inflammation is only modestly reduced; however, the effects are real. As a practical matter, substituting fish for meat is sensible. Fish oil pills also are available. If you choose to supplement your diet with fish oil pills, it’s best to discuss this with your medical provider.
Exercise is important to maintain good health, especially for the patient with arthritis. Exercise helps preserve joint health and function, even for damaged joints. By improving the function of structures that surround the joint—such as the tendons and the muscles—exercise decreases the joint’s workload.
There is no preferred exercise for arthritis. The best advice is to choose an exercise that you like and begin adding it to your regular activities. Exercise duration should be short at first, and gradually increased. Aerobic exercises are ideal and low-impact activities such as walking, biking, and water exercises are usually most comfortable to do. As long as the activity does not increase pain or swelling, it is probably not causing any more joint damage. If pain and/or swelling occurs and lasts for more than 30 minutes after the activity, it is probably the wrong type of exercise or it was done too intensely.
Sometimes, schedule changes make a big difference to the way joint pain affects your life. People with arthritis are often less mobile and suffer more pain in the morn Shifting activities until later in the day may help you take advantage of your greatest mobiI ity and make it easier to deal with the pain This strategy is particularly helpful for patien with inflammatory arthritis.
Stress—personal, social, and emotional also takes its toll. Finding better ways to deal with stress may help decrease pain from arthritis and other joint conditions. Some stress reduction options include meditation, biofeedback, and professional counseling. Exercise is also an excellent stress reliever.