If you have painful, stiff joints and trouble moving around, it could be a sign of arthritis. Most types of arthritis cause pain and swelling where two bones meet, like your elbow or knee. Eventually, the swelling from arthritis may badly damage the affected joint. If you’ve experienced these symptoms, you know the need for arthritis pain relief when they flare up.
There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis. Common types include:
- Osteoarthritis, the most common form, happens when protective cartilage (a joint’s natural shock absorber) wears down.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an ongoing autoimmune (immune system) disease that affects the lining of the joints and other parts of the body, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.
- Juvenile arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in children younger than 16.
- Psoriatic arthritis affects some people with the skin disease psoriasis.
- Gout can happen to anyone and brings on sudden joint pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness, many times in the big toe.
No matter the type, there are many treatment options available to minimize pain and improve joint mobility. And some forms of arthritis will require specific treatment.
What is the best treatment for arthritis pain relief?
Talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to prevent and relieve arthritis pain and improve joint function. Your physician may recommend one or more options based on your type of arthritis, including:
- Medications: Painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), counterirritants, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologic response modifiers, or corticosteroids
- Physical therapy
- Surgery: Joint repair, joint replacement, or joint fusion
- Lifestyle and home remedies
- Alternative medicine
8 arthritis medications
There are many prescription and over-the-counter medications available to relieve arthritis pain, including oral drugs and injections.
Some prefer creams or ointments rubbed into the skin like Voltaren, Icy Hot, or Tiger Balm. They’re a quick and convenient option that’s available over-the-counter at local drugstores. The ingredients in these medications work by blocking pain signals from the affected joint.
It’s important to note that, like prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications can also have dangerous side effects. People with kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease, a history of gastric ulcers, or severe acid reflux should check with a healthcare provider before starting any new medications. Your physician can help create a personalized arthritis pain management plan based on your physical and mental symptoms.
“There are various medications to prevent the progression of arthritis and joint damage,” says Ronen Marmur, MD, a rheumatologist at Northern Westchester Hospital and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University. “The patient and their rheumatologist will assess risk, various advantages, and disadvantages, and decide the best treatment.”
|The best medications for arthritis pain relief|
|Brand names||Drug class||OTC or Rx||Standard dosage||Get coupon||Learn more|
|Tylenol||Acetaminophen||OTC||1000 mg doses orally every six hours (extra strength)||Get coupon||Learn more|
|OxyContin||Opioid||Rx||10 mg orally every 12 hours||Get coupon||Learn more|
|Ultram||Opioid||Rx||25–100 mg orally every day||Get coupon||Learn more|
|Icy Hot||Counterirritant||OTC||Apply to the affected area no more than 3 to 4 times a day (2.5% and 10% gel)||Get coupon||Learn more|
|Advil, Motrin IB, Aleve||NSAID||OTC||200–400 mg orally every 4 to 6 hours||Get Advil coupon||Learn more|
|Voltaren Gel||NSAID||OTC||2–4 g of gel applied to the skin||Get coupon||Learn more|
|Prednisone, Cortef||Corticosteroids||Rx||5–60 mg orally per day (Prednisone)
20–240 mg orally per day (Cortef)
|Get Prednisone coupon||Learn more|
|Enbrel||Biologic response modifiers||Rx||50 mg injection weekly||Get coupon||Learn more|
7 remedies for arthritis pain relief
In addition to prescription medication for arthritis pain, home remedies and lifestyle changes—such as the following—may provide relief.
1. Weight loss
Extra pounds can put more stress on joints that carry your weight, especially the knees and hips. Losing even a small amount of weight can significantly impact arthritis pain while boosting mobility and preventing future injury to joints.
2. Low-impact exercise
Research shows when you have arthritis, exercise dulls pain, improves movement, and slows joint damage. Low impact exercises like cycling, swimming, and water aerobics are good options because they keep your body healthy while putting less stress on vulnerable arthritic joints. Adults with arthritis should aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.
3. The RICE method
“Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are the best initial treatment for an arthritic joint that gets swollen and painful,” says Benjamin McArthur, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in knee and hip joint reconstruction at Texas Orthopedics in Austin, Texas. “Rest allows the body to begin naturally calming down a painful joint. Ice is a natural anti-inflammatory. Compression and elevation help the body reduce swelling, which can contribute to arthritis pain.”
4. Assistive devices
Splints and braces support arthritis-weakened joints, while canes and shoe inserts relieve pain while walking. Other devices designed for people with arthritis help them open jars, close zippers, and hold pencils.
5. Diet changes
For people with arthritis, controlling inflammation can improve their quality of life and overall health. Certain foods may trigger inflammation, so people with the condition limit how much they eat or cut them completely out of their diet:
- Refined carbohydrates
- Fried foods
- Sugar-sweetened drinks
- Red and processed meat
- Margarine, shortening, and lard
Some foods also fight inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet should include:
- Olive oil
- Nuts (almonds and walnuts)
- Green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collards)
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines)
- Fruit (strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges)
Polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds in coffee could also protect against inflammation.
6. Alternative and complementary medicine
A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows more than 40% of adults with arthritis have tried an approach outside of mainstream medicine, such as:
- Acupuncture: Thin needles are inserted into the skin to ease pain.
- Yoga and tai chi: Slow stretching movements aid in flexibility and range of motion.
- Massage: Therapists stroke and knead muscles to boost blood flow and relieve muscle tension and stiffness, which could also help the joints by improving mobility and pain.
- Homeopathic treatments: Small amounts of natural substances like plants and minerals are used to help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Naturopathy: Diet and lifestyle changes, stress relief, supplements, exercise, and counseling help heal the body.
- Mindfulness and meditation: Mind and body practices increase calmness and physical relaxation. Simple breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques can help to reduce anxiety and pain.
Research is mixed about the benefits of alternative and complementary medicine for arthritis pain. Studies show that acupuncture and massage offer possible short-term pain relief. And, mind-body practices like meditation, tai chi, and yoga could improve rheumatoid arthritis pain alongside traditional treatment options.
“Tai chi has been shown to be an excellent form of exercise for people with arthritis,” Dr. McArthur says. “It fosters improvements in strength, flexibility, balance, and positive thinking, all of which can go a long way towards optimizing joint function and limiting arthritis pain.”
7. Vitamins and supplements
Glucosamine and chondroitin: These substances naturally found in the body are often sold as a combination herbal supplement. It’s thought to help build cartilage, keep the joints flexible, and treat arthritis pain. One major study of glucosamine and chondroitin, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found little to no evidence that the supplement eases osteoarthritis pain. Still, many other studies suggest a positive effect. In general, glucosamine and chondroitin are safe and may be worth trying for people with arthritis who want to manage their pain without prescription medication.
Other supplements: Supplements with omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), or the herb thunder god vine may help ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. At the same time, curcumin, a substance found in the spice turmeric, could relieve the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis. More research is needed, though.
Vitamins: Researchers have studied several antioxidant vitamins such as A, C, E, and D to learn more about their impact on arthritis. Right now, science doesn’t confirm the pain-relieving effects of these vitamins, but they’re still essential to an overall healthy diet.
CBD: Cannabidiol (CBD) is an active compound found in the cannabis plant. Studies of CBD in animals suggest that it relieves pain and inflammation, but researchers have not proven the same effect in humans.
The use of supplements for arthritis pain relief is controversial in the medical community. They don’t go through the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process as medicines. And, some supplements can cause side effects and interact with prescription drugs, including arthritis medications.
“Instead of focusing on supplements, people should keep the basic stuff in mind,” Dr. Marmur says. “Nutrition, exercise, weight maintenance, stretching—these are the keys. All the rest is peripheral.” Talk to a healthcare provider before adding a supplement to your arthritis pain management plan.
When to see a doctor
If you suspect that you have arthritis, you should contact your healthcare provider if symptoms last for more than three days or happen multiple times a month, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Getting a diagnosis is the first step in relieving pain. “It’s important to catch arthritis early because early intervention can prevent crippling disease,” Dr. Marmur says.
Watch out for joints that are:
- Painful, tender, swollen, or stiff
- Red or warm to the touch
- Difficult to move
Your primary care doctor may provide a diagnosis or may refer you to a rheumatologist—a specialist in arthritis as well as bone, muscle, and joint conditions.