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Arthritis: managing the pain

For the 10 million people in the UK who have arthritis, managing pain is a top priority. Keeping joint pain under control is the key to long term happiness and wellbeing, and for many people it’s also important to enable them to undergo further treatment.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a common condition which causes pain and swelling in one or more joints in the body. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear of the cartilage (connective tissue) in the hands, hips, knees and spine. Rheumatoid arthritis is less common but more severe and involves the body’s immune system attacking the joints, leading to a breakdown of bone and cartilage.

Managing joint pain

Pain is highly personal and subjective and each individual’s experience requires a unique approach to pain management. There are many different treatments and management options available to control arthritis pain, and most are aimed at controlling symptoms and improving quality of life.

Non-surgical options for managing pain include interventional procedures, medication and lifestyle aspects such as diet and exercise. If these treatments aren’t enough to reduce the pain, your consultant may suggest surgical treatment such as a joint replacement.

Pain relief medication

Many people find that taking pain relief is an effective way to manage their pain in a controlled, unobtrusive way. There are various different pain medicines available, and some may be more suitable than others. However, most will contain anti-inflammatory drugs or a painkiller such as paracetamol or an opioid.

Lifestyle changes

For long term pain management, many people find that making changes to their lifestyle can be helpful to reduce symptoms and reduce the risk of the arthritis getting worse. If you are suffering with arthritis and you are overweight, losing weight can really help to bring down pain levels and help you cope with your condition.

Diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps to maintain a healthy body weight, which relieves pain by reducing pressure on the joints. It also helps to build and maintain strong bones. A deficiency of calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, vitamin K, zinc, vitamin C or selenium can be linked to degeneration of bone and joint health, so it’s important to eat a balanced diet which delivers all of these vitamins and minerals.

Recent research also found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can help to ease pain and loosen stiff joints in osteoarthritis sufferers. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, with 8 million people affected. The study shows that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds and oily fish can reduce inflammation and slow the decay of cartilage, as well as boosting weight loss and joint movement.

Exercise

In combination with a healthy diet, being active can help to maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise can also help to reduce stiffness and improve your range of movement by boosting flexibility and muscle strength. Exercise also releases endorphins, which can boost your mood and energy levels. It’s a commonly held belief that sports such as running can increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis. However, there is very little reliable evidence that participating in sport and exercise does increase the risk. Being overweight is a proven risk factor for osteoarthritis, so taking exercise is likely to do far more good than harm.

Non-surgical interventions

Injections

The aim of joint injections is short term relief, and they often deliver excellent results for a few months at a time. Many people find that the pain relief from injections is enough to allow a greater range of movement, making other forms of therapy such as exercise and weight loss possible.

There are various types of joint injections available. Some contain (corticosteroids and platelet rich plasma (PRP) and encourage and accelerated healing process. Others inject synthetic cartilage into the joint to try and replace the lost or degraded cartilage. Most injections are carried out in specialist pain clinics, and there is no need to stay overnight.

If you want to know more about arthritis treatment and management, read our Q&A session with two of our orthopaedic consultants. Take a look at our free guide on how to prevent and manage joint pain.

 

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