Tips for Living Better With Joint Pain
This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.
IF YOU'RE LIVING WITH chronic joint pain, you're not alone. Most commonly caused by arthritis or related diseases of the joints, this pain is estimated to affect more than 70 million patients in the U.S. and some 300 million people worldwide, says Dr. Taylor R. Dunphy, an orthopedic surgeon with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Orange County, California.
Joint pain is frequently related to osteoarthritis, an age-related condition in which the cushioning cartilage in joints degrades over time. "Osteoarthritis can be caused by a previous trauma to a joint, or from degenerative changes due to activity, obesity or genetics," Dunphy says. Knees, hips, fingers and wrists are very common sites of joint pain related to this wear and tear that most adults experience later in life.
Arthritis can also result from trauma, such as an auto accident or sports injury. Dr. W. Kelton Vasileff, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and hip preservation at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, says sports injuries, such as a tendon or ligament tears, can lead to joint pain. Autoimmune disorders, rheumatic conditions and inflammatory diseases can also lead to frequent or chronic pain in the joints for some people. Just a few examples of these conditions include:
Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which cells of the immune system mistakenly attack healthy tissues in the joints leading to pain, swelling and decreased range of motion.
Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that can cause widespread body pain, fatigue and poor sleep.
Gout, a type of arthritis cause by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. It tends to attack the joint at the base of the big toe most often.
Lyme disease, a tick-borne bacterial infection that can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including joint pain.
Taken all together, conditions that cause joint pain are "the second-leading cause of why patients visit the doctor," accounting for approximately 34% of all visits, Dunphy says. The CDC reports that arthritis is the leading cause of work disability among U.S. adults. Pain Management Tips and Suggestions While joint pain can slow you down and make simple tasks much more difficult, there are ways to manage the condition to improve your experience of living with it, no matter what's causing the pain. Find support. Julie Eller, director of patient-centered strategies, help and support with the Arthritis Foundation, says that finding "a community of people who can help support you through that experience" can help make living with joint pain easier. She has lived with a form of arthritis herself for more than 18 years, and says that learning from others what works for them can be a really valuable way of living better with joint pain while also feeling less alone in managing the condition. The Arthritis Foundation's Live Yes! Arthritis Network can be a good place to start.
Don't brush it off. Most of us will experience some joint pain as we age, and Eller recommends not just ignoring it or chalking it up to old age. "Talk about your experience with your doctor and realize that it's something you can take control over." Getting the right diagnosis early can sometimes help delay the progression of age-related osteoarthritis. And for other conditions – there are more than 100 arthritic conditions, so your diagnosis might not be just garden-variety osteoarthritis – getting the right diagnosis and a personalized care plan is critical to managing the disease properly.
Lose some weight. Excess body weight puts extra pressure on the joints and can lead to systemic inflammation, so if you're overweight, shedding even a small number of pounds may improve your experience of joint pain. Research has shown that "for every 1 pound of weight loss, 4 pounds of pressure are decreased per step in patients with knee arthritis," Dunphy says. In addition, decreasing your body mass index (a measure of height versus weight) by two units or more, or roughly 11.2 pounds, "decreased the odds for developing osteoarthritis by over 50%," he says.
Eat right. Though Eller says there's "no one-size-fits-all diet for people with arthritis and there's no magic bullet for eating this or avoiding that to reduce pain," there can be some foods that can trigger symptoms in some people. Some individuals with arthritis have used an elimination diet to discover that consuming a lot of dairy products, processed foods, sugar or alcohol can trigger increased inflammation and pain for them. But each person is different, and you should discuss diet with your doctor or a nutritionist to make sure you're getting adequate nutrition. Eating a healthy, varied diet is always good for supporting overall health. Consider supplements. Vasileff notes that "there's some research into different spices, supplements and herbal remedies that people say offer anti-inflammatory effects to help joint pain, but there's not a lot of good data behind them." Anecdotally however, some people with arthritis have found that supplements containing glucosamine do help a bit. He also recommends eating a diet that contains lots of antioxidants, which are believed to help fight inflammation and are found in leafy green vegetables, berries and other plant-based foods. Talk with your doctor about whether adding a supplement is a good idea for your situation.
Add physical therapy. "Physical therapy has been shown to improve joint pain and physical function," Dunphy says. "The American Academy of Orthopedic surgery strongly recommends physical therapy, with 29 studies showing that strength training can significantly decrease pain."
Exercise. One of the biggest ways to live better with joint pain involves "getting and staying active," Eller says. The more you move, the more you'll be able to move, she says, so getting into a regular practice of whatever physical activity you enjoy most can help you live better with joint pain. "Find activities that bring you joy," and that you'll be able to stick with over the long term for the best results.
Reduce impact. Vasileff also recommends exercise as a key for helping people live better with joint pain, but notes that you may need to adjust what you're doing. Particularly for those with lower-limb joint pain, such as in the hips, knees or ankles, you should try to avoid high-impact activities such as running. The jarring effect of weight-bearing, high-impact activities can aggravate sore joints, so instead, focus on "lower-impact aerobic activities like walking, swimming, cycling, using the elliptical machine and weight training." Listen to your body. When your joint pain flares up, Vasileff recommends resting and icing the sore joint to help bring down inflammation and reduce pain. Combine approaches. Dunphy says that weight loss of greater than 5% of total body weight plus physical exercise of more than 60 minutes at least three times a week "did better in decreasing knee arthritis pain than either intervention alone." Combining many of the different elements above can add up to a better situation with joint pain.
Follow doctor's orders. Lastly, your health care provider may recommend that you take over-the-counter or prescription pain medications that can help alleviate the inflammation and pain of conditions like arthritis. Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions closely in using any medications. Elaine K. Howley, Contributor Elaine Howley began writing for U.S. News in 2017, covering breast cancer and COPD. Since ... READ MORE Sources Dr. Taylor Dunphy, MD Dunphy is an orthopedic surgeon with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Orange County, California.
Julie EllerEller is director, patient centered strategies, help and support with the Arthritis Foundation. She manages the Arthritis Foundation's Live Yes! Arthritis Network, which offers resources and connections to others living with joint pain. Dr. Kelton Vasileff, MDVasileff is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and hip preservation at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Tags: health, patient advice, osteoporosis, arthritis, bones