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2022 Guide to Living with Chronic Arthritis Pain
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More than 54 million Americans live with at least some type of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Prevent and Control (CDC). That’s close to a quarter of the entire adult population.
But if you live with arthritis, knowing that there are others who feel your pain isn’t necessarily much comfort. The specific causes and symptoms of your arthritis can still be as unique as you are, which can make it difficult to find an effective treatment.
The good news is that new research and complementary treatments for arthritis pain are finally reaching mainstream medicine. So whether you’ve been searching for a long time for new solutions for managing arthritis pain, or you’re newly diagnosed, there are more options than ever. And with the right plan, it’s possible to make symptoms manageable and to get your mobility and freedom back.
What is arthritis?
To put it simply, arthritis means “joint inflammation.” It has been documented to affect humans since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Generally, any type of joint inflammation is considered a symptom of another health condition, and not a diagnosis on its own. Still, doctors use the term to refer to any condition that’s causing inflammation in your joints.
The common types of arthritis
The National Arthritis Foundation estimates that there are over 100 types of arthritis. Each type of arthritis has its own set of underlying causes and correlating symptoms. It’s possible to have two or more types of arthritis at once.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is what most people think of as “typical” arthritis. It happens when tissues in your joints break down as you age. As a result, your joints have less of a cushion when you bend or stretch, creating stiffness and pain. Osteoarthritis occurs mostly in people past the age of 50, but some younger people also develop it after a joint injury, such as an ACL tear.
Osteoarthritis pain is considered chronic, meaning that pain is typically ongoing. You may have several joints that are affected at once, including your knees, hips, lower back and hands.
Lumbar and Cervical Spondylosis
Spondylosis is any type of joint or disc degeneration that affects your back, pelvis and neck. The condition causes pain and swelling in your spine, as well as the joints that connect your spine to your pelvis. This type of arthritis develops as you age, but can occur in young patients who are overweight or have scoliosis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation of the joints caused by an autoimmune condition. The lining of your joints becomes inflamed and damages the tissue. “Flares” of rheumatoid arthritis will cause stiffness and pain in several joints at once. In between these flares, pain may subside or become more manageable and the triggers are different for everyone.
Without treatment, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worsen as the condition progresses. Sadly, over time, affected joints may actually fuse together, which can only be corrected with surgery.
Psoriatic arthritis affects 30% of people who have been diagnosed with psoriasis. It causes tenderness, pain and swelling at several joints at once. And, it can be connected to the same things that make your psoriasis flare up. Children sometimes experience psoriatic arthritis, but the condition is typically diagnosed between ages 30 and 50. Even if your psoriasis is generally mild, you may still experience some of the more severe symptoms of psoriatic arthritis.
Gout is painful swelling in your joints, particularly the joint of your big toe. Gout typically only affects one joint at a time, and flare-ups last from one to two weeks. The condition is considered one of the most manageable types of arthritis because symptoms will mostly disappear between flare-ups. Flares can be triggered by your diet.
What does chronic arthritis pain feel like?
To say that chronic arthritis pain “hurts” is an understatement. The exact type of arthritis you have determines where and how you feel the pain. However, unless you’re receiving effective pain management treatment, most chronic cases involve ongoing pain. Nearly half of adults with arthritis describe their pain as “persistent,” and one in four say that their pain is “severe,” according to the CDC.
People with chronic arthritis pain sometimes describe it as a constant, dull ache in the joints that are affected. You may feel pain that’s deep in your kneecap or outside of your hip joints, for example. Chronic arthritis pain can also feel like pressure or stiffness when you’re not using your joints. You may feel like you have trouble moving your fingers when you first wake up in the morning, or like your joints are sending vibrations through your knees when you are walking up stairs.
The intensity of your pain may correspond to other things that are going on in your body. Factors such as your diet, exercise level and whether or not you’ve been receiving effective treatment can make the pain level better or worse. People who are older and not within a healthy weight range tend to see their symptoms progress faster than people who are younger and of a healthier weight.
Are there other signs and symptoms of arthritis?
Chronic pain is not the only symptom of arthritis, although it might be the one that you notice the most. Types of arthritis that are caused by other inflammatory health conditions can be related to inflammation symptoms that show up in other parts of your body.
These other signs and symptoms can include:
- Chronic eye inflammation, redness and dry eye
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and abdominal pain
- Swollen fingers and toes
- Joints that fuse together
- Difficulty exercising
- Small lumps under your skin in areas where bone is visible
- Damage to blood vessels and organs caused by long-term inflammation
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Why do certain things trigger arthritis pain?
You may have noticed that certain lifestyle choices, weather conditions, or even foods you eat can trigger pain. No matter what type of arthritis you have, it’s possible to have flare-ups when daily activities or dietary choices make symptoms worse.
Most arthritis triggers have one thing in common: they tend to be linked to inflammation. When inflammation levels in your body go up, your level of discomfort from arthritis will go up, too. This is especially true if your arthritis is connected to a condition such as rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis.
Diet can also play a big role in how your arthritis pain changes from one day to the next. Sugar, gluten and refined carbohydrates are among foods that can trigger inflammation in your body.
Beyond inflammation, changes to your medication or fighting off an infection can also wear out your body. Overworking your body can be another common trigger. Climbing up and down stairs, folding laundry and other daily activities can wear out your joints.
These post-trigger moments are the ones in which you may experience the worst symptoms. These are also the same moments that you might start to wonder about treatment options that you haven’t tried.
Is there a cure for arthritis?
Although there is currently no cure for arthritis, there are more treatment options than ever. The goal of most arthritis treatments is to maintain and restore your joint mobility, while keeping your pain levels low.
Treatments that your doctor may recommend for arthritis include:
- Over-the-counter or prescription-strength NSAID pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
- Topical pain relief creams, containing NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, anesthetics and botanicals such as menthol and CBD
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation in an affected joint
- Surgery to replace affected joints or correct joints that have fused together
- Custom fitted knee braces, arm braces, or orthotics to stabilize your joints during daily activities
- Some specific types of nerve blockers for joint pain
At one point, prescription-strength opioid medications were given by doctors to people with chronic arthritis pain. Research now shows that giving this type of medication for arthritis may not work well for people with chronic arthritis pain. In one study of people with hip and knee osteoarthritis, those who took over-the-counter pain relievers for one year showed a greater decrease in their pain symptoms than people who took opioids for the same amount of time.
What are the best ways to treat arthritis naturally?
In addition to medication and medical interventions, there are other things you can do to manage the pain of arthritis. Researchers are learning more about the benefits of holistic and home remedies for arthritis. Doctors are also getting a better idea of the important role that nutrition and exercise play in managing symptoms.
Maintain a healthy weight
Weight loss and a healthy diet are often the first solutions doctors mention when you are diagnosed with arthritis. Focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein sources can reduce inflammation in your body. And weight loss of up to 10 percent of your body weight has been shown to improve osteoarthritis.
No matter what type of arthritis you have, it’s likely that tracking your dietary habits with a food journal can help you manage your symptoms. Whether you’re trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet or testing a new nutritional supplement for the first time, tracking the food and nutrition that goes into your body can help you narrow down trigger foods and reduce the number of flare-ups you have.
Consider nutritional supplements
You may also want to consider dietary and nutritional supplements to manage your chronic pain. Make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D, as it has been linked to increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as a host of other health difficulties. Omega-three fatty acids, available through fish and fish oil supplements, may be able to reduce swelling in your joints. Blueberries, raspberries, pomegranate and strawberry juices may all play a role in relieving arthritis symptoms, due to their antioxidant properties.
Ask your doctor about exercise and physical therapy
Physical therapy and light exercise can be a part of your arthritis treatment plan. Yoga, in particular, has been shown to provide relief for arthritis pain and restore mobility in clinical trials. A stretching routine prescribed by a professional can reduce the pressure on your joints while helping your body to relax.
Know when to take it easy
Overexertion is one of the most common triggers for osteoarthritis, but it can be hard to know when you’re overdoing it. Keeping a log of your daily activities can go a long way to help you understand what your joints are going through on a daily basis. Jotting down any medication you take and the time you take it can keep your treatment plan on track.
Find a support network
Even with sophisticated treatments and a holistic, whole-person approach, chronic pain can take a toll on your mental health. Enlisting the help of friends and family members who understand your condition and know your limitations is one way you can take care of yourself.
Finding others who live with the same diagnosis to talk to is another way. The Arthritis Foundation has a nationwide network of support groups called Live Yes! Connect, as well as a comprehensive resource list of other support groups.
Finally, focus on finding a team of health professionals that you trust. It might sound overwhelming to find a physical therapist, a nutritionist, a chiropractor, a rheumatologist and an orthopedist or pain specialist to help you manage your arthritis. (And you may or may not need all of those specialists, depending on your case.)
But don’t be afraid to add other health professionals into the mix, depending on what your doctor recommends. Having a wide-scope support team means you’ll have more hope for less pain and more mobility.
The Clearing solution
When it comes to chronic arthritis, it can be difficult to identify the true cause of the condition. However, when it comes to effective pain treatments, Clearing can help. Click the button below to get started.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.