Joint pain is often the type of pain that sticks around. It isn’t something that’s here and then gone with a one-time fix. So managing it can be a long-term process.
A Common Problem
Many conditions cause long-term joint pain. One of the most common causes is arthritis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 4 adults, or about 54 million Americans, suffers with painful joints from arthritis.
Whatever the cause, for many people the pain is so bad they find it hard to stay physically active. Poor mental and physical health often follow.
Managing Chronic Pain
To keep pain from becoming overwhelming, learn as much as you can about how to best manage your condition. There are many ways to help manage chronic joint pain.
Staying active is important. Activity can be difficult if you have joint pain, but it has many long-term benefits that will help you manage your condition and boost your mental outlook.
Exercise strengthens muscles that support painful joints. It preserves and increases joint range of motion. Some types of physical activity programs increase joint function and have been shown to improve mood, sleep and quality of life.
Activity can help you lose any extra weight. Maintaining an ideal body weight can help relieve the pressure on some joints, like hips and knees.
So keep moving if you can. You may be able to walk, swim, stretch, or do yoga or tai chi. Your doctor can help you decide which activities are safe for you.
Get Enough Rest
Rest is important when your joints are painful or stiff. Lighten your schedule and pace yourself. Ask for help when you need to. And make sure you’re getting good quality sleep. Poor sleep can make your pain and fatigue worse. If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, learn what you can do to help you fall and stay asleep.
Learn About Your Options for Pain Relief
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may help relieve joint pain. Physical therapy and steroid shots may also help reduce your pain and inflammation. Talk to your doctor about what may work for you.
You can also try natural pain management techniques and ways to manage fatigue.
Whatever options you choose, be sure to track what you’re doing, your symptoms, pain levels and any medicines you take. That can help you learn what works best for you.
What If It’s New Pain?
In addition to chronic joint conditions, joint pain can also stem from overusing a joint or injury. If your joint pain is new, talk to your doctor.
Signs of joint inflammation include swelling, warmth, tenderness, redness and pain with movement. Often, rest and warm baths, massage, and stretching may help with short-term pain.
But call your doctor if:
- You have a fever.
- Your pain lasts more than a few days.
- You have severe pain and swelling, especially with other unexplained symptoms.
The National Institutes of Health lists many other causes of joint pain, including:
- Bursitis — the swelling of a cushion between muscles, tendons and bones
- Muscle pain
- Autoimmune diseases like lupus
- Tendinitis — swelling in the bands that link muscles to bones
To keep new joint pain from becoming chronic pain, it’s best to check with your doctor to get to the root of the problem.
You don’t have to just live with a lot of pain. There are many things you can try to find relief. Start by talking to your doctor. And keep asking questions and trying things until you find what works for you. It’s important to keep working through a toolkit of options for helping manage the pain. Having different strategies to try is the key to success.
Learn your OTCs.
If you’re considering taking OTC medicines for your pain, there are things you should know about taking them safely. The Arthritis Foundation has a quiz to help you learn more about taking OTC medicines. Talk to your doctor before you start taking any new medicine for your joint condition.
Sources: Managing Your Pain Quiz, Arthritis Pain Management Tips, Arthritis Self-Management: What You Need to Know, Arthritis Foundation; State-specific Severe Joint Pain and Physical Inactivity Among Adults with Arthritis — United States, 2017, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019; Joint Pain, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 2018