Osteoarthritis pain can prevent you from doing the things you love. This common form of arthritis affects the very structure of your joints to cause pain, stiffness and swelling in your hands, hips and knees. Treatment for osteoarthritis pain typically involves the use of pain medication, including narcotics, but these drugs can be dangerous and cause unwanted side effects. Fortunately, you can manage your osteoarthritis pain without the use of dangerous drugs.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it affects more than 32.5 million American adults. The condition develops when the smooth tissue that cushions the bones, known as cartilage, breaks down to allow the ends of the bones to rub together when you move the affected joint. It can affect any joint, but most commonly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, lower back and neck. Osteoarthritis tends to develop in middle age, according to the Arthritis Foundation, or as the result of injury or obesity.
It is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse with time. Over the years, wear and tear can lead to the chronic joint pain and inflammation that characterizes osteoarthritis. Symptoms of osteoarthritis can lead to debilitating pain, joint damage, and reduced range of motion.
Treatment usually involves analgesics to control osteoarthritis pain and stiffness, but all medications have the potential for side effects. What’s worse is that analgesics do not always work to reduce pain. Left untreated, though, osteoarthritis can cause enough joint damage to warrant surgery. Fortunately, there are healthy living choices that can help you manage your osteoarthritis pain and stiffness without the use of risky medications.
How to Manage Your Osteoarthritis Pain in 7 Easy Steps
1. Manage your weight
Carrying around excess weight puts more pressure on your joints, particularly your hips, knees, and feet. Losing weight reduces the stress on your joints to improve your mobility, decrease pain, and prevent further joint damage.
While osteoarthritis pain can prevent you from moving around as you like, exercising can actually reduce stiffness and pain. Gentle exercise can help you manage your weight, keep your joints flexible, and help support your joints by strengthening the muscles around the affected joint. The best exercises for osteoarthritis are usually low-impact activities, such as:
- Tai chi
- Swimming or other water activities that reduce pressure on your joints
Osteoarthritis and weight can sometimes create a vicious circle, where excess weight and lack of exercise cause osteoarthritis pain, but osteoarthritis pain can prevent you from getting the exercise you need to stay slim.
3. Use hot and cold therapy
Applying hot and cold treatments can help alleviate inflammation and pain of osteoarthritis.
Heat and cold treatments can help relieve arthritis pain and inflammation. Heat treatments, such as taking a warm shower or using an electric heating pad, help relax muscles, loosen stiffness, and warm up joints prior to exercise; they can also help reduce discomfort overnight. Cold treatments, such as applying a gel ice pack - or even bag of frozen vegetables - to painful joints, can provide quick relief – never apply ice directly to skin, of course.
Many people with osteoarthritis find relief with products containing capsaicin, which comes from chili peppers. The capsaicin in these over-the-counter topical ointments and creams provide warmth that can soothe joint pain.
4. Consider herbal supplements
Some herbs have anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease osteoarthritis pain and joint stiffness. While the scientific community has not yet confirmed that any specific herb can treat arthritis, some research shows the herbs can help reduce inflammation and other effects of osteoarthritis. Herbs to try include:
Always consult with a healthcare professional before taking herbal supplements, especially if you take prescription drugs, as herbal supplements can affect the way your prescription medications work. Tell your doctor and pharmacist if you have started taking herbal supplements.
5. Consume a healthy diet
Research shows that dietary choices can affect people with osteoarthritis. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can bolster your immune system, boost your overall health, and help you keep your weight down to alleviate excess pressure on your joints. Plant foods are high in antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation by eliminating free radicals.
Diets rich in red meats, saturated fats, processed foods, and added sugar can promote inflammation to make osteoarthritis pain worse. Because they tend to be higher in calories, they can also cause you to gain unwanted weight.
6. Add turmeric to foods
Turmeric is the yellow spice featured in many Indian dishes. It contains curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Scientific research suggests turmeric can help reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
7. Relax with meditation
In a 2013 study, people with osteoarthritis of the knee participated in an 8-week meditation program reported significantly reduced knee pain and dysfunction. They also reported that they were in a better mood. Perhaps the best part is that there are no negative side effects from meditation – plus, anyone can do it!
Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that can make it more difficult to move around or to do the things you love. While taking pain pills can temporarily alleviate discomfort, medications can cause side effects and the effects wear off after just a few hours. Incorporating some lifestyle changes into your treatment plan can help you manage your osteoarthritis pain without dangerous medications. For more information on reducing the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis, consult with your healthcare professional.