More than 23 percent of adults in the U.S. have arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There is no cure for arthritis but many times the pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints caused by arthritis can be managed with over-the-counter medication and home remedies. Rheumatologist Dr. Robert Koval often counsels patients on making healthy lifestyle choices in addition to their medical treatment plan to help alleviate symptoms. Dr. Koval shares ways to manage arthritis pain and stiffness on Livestrong.
Ways to Manage Arthritis Pain and Stiffness
One of the first lines of defense against arthritis pain and swelling is over-the-counter anti inflammatory medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). An anti-inflammatory gel can be applied directly to the affected area and may reduce swelling, redness and pain. Voltaren can be found over-the-counter and is recommended by physicians and the Arthritis Foundation.
One of the most important things you can do to help manage arthritis pain is to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.
“I recommend daily physical activity and weight loss (if appropriate) to all of my patients,” Dr. Robert Koval tells Livestrong.com. “Exercising helps with all types of inflammatory arthritis. This helps avoid the ‘gelling’ phenomenon, where patients feel more stiff when they slow down and rest. This is thought to be due to the fluid in the joints (synovial fluid) thickening, thus causing more pain with movement.”
Exercise also helps reduce stress, is great for mental health and has been shown to decrease inflammation, Dr. Koval says.
“Dietary changes are very important when dealing with all types of arthritis,” says Dr. Koval. He often recommends a Mediterranean diet to his patients, which includes many anti-inflammatory foods. Dr. Koval also recommends avoiding processed foods and excess carbohydrates because foods high in sugar and trans fat can increase inflammation in the body.
Some patients find heat therapy or cold therapy helps to decrease arthritis pain.
“Heat or cold (sometimes alternating both) has been shown to help with patients’ pain perception,” says Dr. Koval.
When to use hot therapy: Heat has been shown to increase blood flow and warm up joints, muscles and tendons, and is used more in inflammatory arthritis, explains Dr. Koval.
Ointments or topicals can provide a sense of warmth on the joints as well. Dr. Koval especially recommends ointments with capsaicin, as it “works to distract the pain fibers from the underlying process causing pain.” Popular over-the-counter capsaicin medications include Capzasin and Zostrix.
When to use cold therapy: Degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis or “wear and tear” arthritis) tends to respond well to cold therapy, which decreases blood flow by constricting vessels and can numb the pain, Dr. Koval says.
Keeping your stress levels low can not only improve your arthritis symptoms but it also impacts your overall health and wellbeing.
“Studies have shown that stress directly contributes to inflammation and tends to increase pain in all forms of arthritis,” he says. “This creates a vicious cycle, as the pain and inflammation then leads to more stress.”
Meditation, deep breathing and exercise may help to reduce day-to-day stress.
Some patients suffering from arthritis pain and stiffness also find relief with massage and herbal supplements. “Products like CBD oil and many other OTC or compounded topicals can provide some pain relief as well,” says Dr. Koval, who encourages they only be used under the guidance of a health care professional.
Find the entire Livestrong article here.