Pain Management - Arthritis Action

Pain Management

Arthritis Pain

People with arthritis can experience both acute and chronic pain.

Those with inflammatory types of arthritis such as Rheumatoid Arthritis can experience sudden ‘flare-ups’ which are felt as sudden sharp pain in one or two joints. This can last a few days and be accompanied by redness and swelling around the joint. The person may feel unwell and fatigued. Underlying this can be long term chronic pain associated with permanent tissue damage.

Those with osteoarthritis tend to experience more chronic pain that can range from slight stiffness in the morning to severe pain, particularly on movement.


Managing Arthritis Pain

There’s no one way to manage arthritis pain. It may involve prescription or non-prescription medicines and eventually surgery. Lifestyle will also be an important factor and physical and other therapies can help. Here are some strategies that may be useful:


  • Acute or sudden pain.

If you have a sudden flare-up of your arthritis, it may help to remember the word RICE, where each letter stands for something you can do to help:


stands for rest and relaxation – try to rest the joint for a few days until the flare-up subsides







stands for ice. You may find that an ice pack wrapped in a tea-towel can help reduce the inflammation surrounding the joint. However, some people find heat or a combination of both to be more beneficial. It depends what works best for you.



stands for compression. Sometimes a joint will feel more comfortable if it is supported. Use a lightweight stretchy support and don’t keep it on for long periods





stands for elevation. If your pain is from the leg or hip it can sometimes feel more comfortable to raise the leg on a stool when you are sitting down. Again it is a matter of trial and error to find what works for you. It is important not to stay in this position for too long as the joints will ‘seize up’. Little and often is the key.

  • Chronic or long-term arthritis pain

In our day-to-day lives, each of us faces physical and emotional demands which can seem overwhelming if you have long-term pain. This can lead to increased stress levels which can in turn increase pain levels, making you unable to enjoy those little things in life. It can seem like a vicious circle. Here are some suggestions on how to break the circle.


1. Do more exercise

Exercise releases chemicals, called endorphins, into the body. These are the ‘feel good factor’ chemicals which will help lift your mood and give you more energy. Exercise can also be good for strengthening muscles which help support joints and can increase mobility.


2. Relax and learn how to meditate

Arthritis can cause muscles to become tense and this will make them painful to move. The purpose of relaxation is to release muscle tension throughout the body. Learning to relax properly is a skill that has to be learned. There are many good books on relaxation and meditation techniques so check out your local library or bookshop.


3. Control your breathing

Often when we are in pain we tend to tense up and breathe shallowly. This is not a good way to manage pain. It may seem to help in the short term, but eventually it can lead to further pain. Learning to breathe deeply and from your diaphragm will help you ‘go with the pain’ and be more in control, which lessens the fear of pain. Pilates, Tai Chi or Alexander technique classes all show you how to regulate your breathing and have the added benefit of mixing with others.


4. Improve your sleep pattern

A poor sleep pattern is a common complaint from individuals with chronic pain.  Lack of sleep can increase stress levels and inflammatory hormones, which make pain worse. Strategies for improving a poor sleep pattern include:

  • Practise meditation which can reduce stress levels
  • Try and avoid napping during the day
  • Develop a sleep ritual which relaxes you before bed
  • Avoid stimulating drinks in the evening and change your bedtime drink to a calming herbal infusion or a warm milky drink.


5. Try a clinical treatment

Some clinical therapies, such as physiotherapy or osteopathy, have been shown to improve  and provide pain relief from arthritis. Soft tissue work and massage can relax the muscles and decrease tension. Our Associated Practitioners are qualified in soft tissue techniques and will use these techniques as part of their treatment plan.


6. Set yourself goals and develop an action plan

Set yourself a goal each day, as something you want to achieve and then plan the steps you will need to take to achieve this. Your goal doesn’t have to be large – it could be something as simple as:

  • Contact a friend
  • Ask yourself: what do I need to do to achieve this?
  • Decide the best way of making contact (phone, email, text, letter or meeting them face to face).
  • What do you need for your method of contact and how do you get it?
  • What do you want to say – a general chat or something specific, arrange a time to meet?
  • Once you have a plan of action you can take the first step to achieving your goal.

Having a set of small goals that you are able to achieve is a good way of focusing on something positive rather than thinking about your arthritis. It may bring you pain relief as well as helping you manage long-term pain.


7. Change the way you think

Pain management using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has recently gathered favour with the public. CBT offers an understanding of behaviour, thoughts and beliefs and how these can be modified to affect the pain experience. In other words:

Remember: Just because you have a thought it doesn’t mean it is true.

You can visit a health professional qualified in CBT who can give you a set of coping strategies and most importantly can teach you how to help yourself to refocus the pain. Self-monitoring methods are then used to prompt and reinforce these coping strategies.


8. Medication

It is important to discuss the options with your GP so that you fully understand what treatment they can offer. If they prescribe a medication for you, you should not discontinue or change the dosage without consultation with them. If you experience unacceptable side-effects then it is important that you tell your GP immediately.