Pain relief

Pain is one of the most common symptoms of arthritis and varies in intensity from one person to another. Plus many sufferers find that they have episodes of pain which are worse at certain times than others.

This section looks at both pain relief and pain control. These are both discussed as follows:

  • Pain of arthritis
  • Other causes of pain
  • Pain management and pain relief
  • Coping with severe pain

Pain of arthritis

The pain caused by arthritis is usually caused by the following reasons:

  • Cartilage within a joint wears down which causes the bones to grind against each other.
  • The immune system attacks the joints of the body leading to pain and inflammation.

The first reason is a feature of osteoarthritis. The second reason is the primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis.

Why is arthritis so painful? The affected joint becomes swollen and inflamed due to increased blood flow which occurs due to an infection or injury. This blood flow produces heat within that joint.

Plus the synovium - the inner lining of the joint capsule –becomes thicker which causes excess fluid to be produced. This causes an inflammation in the joint.

Other causes of pain

However, another likely cause of pain is tight muscles. The stress associated with arthritis causes the muscles around the affected joint to tighten as a form of protection.

But this tightening only increases the pain. The more you try and relax the harder it is to prevent this from happening. Plus tiredness and fatigue are contributing factors in this.

Fatigue is a common symptom of arthritis which makes it more difficult to cope with pain. So, if you are having a particularly bad day with the pain of your arthritis and feel very tired as well then the combination of these will only worsen these symptoms.

This is why pain management is an important part of any treatment plan for arthritis.

Pain management and pain relief

Pain management and pain relief are two ways of controlling chronic pain caused by conditions such as arthritis.

Pain relief is an umbrella term used to describe a range of drugs, e.g. painkillers which can ease the pain caused by arthritis. These include:

  • Painkillers (analgesics), e.g. paracetamol
  • Corticosteroids, e.g. prednisolone
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s), e.g. ibuprofen.

These three drugs are discussed in more detail in our medication for arthritis section.

Other options include:

  • Nerve blocks
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Acupuncture
  • TENS machine

Nerve blocks

A nerve block is a type of injection which acts directly upon a nerve to block pain sensations from travelling from there to the brain. They are not suitable for every type of arthritis but they have found to be effective for cases of osteoarthritis which have affected the bones or nerves of the lower spine.

Tricyclic antidepressants

These drugs are prescribed for people with conditions such as fibromyalgia which causes chronic muscle pain. This condition results in a variety of symptoms which include sleep disturbance which only exacerbates this pain.

This medication aids with sleep by controlling tingling sensations in the hands and feet, headaches and muscle pains. This then reduces pain and discomfort caused by the symptoms of fibromylagia.


This is a form of alternative medicine which is based upon an ancient system of healing using tiny needles which are inserted into pressure points in the skin. These needles work by preventing pain sensations from reaching the brain and release pain relieving hormones (endorphins) at the same time.

Acupuncture is discussed along with similar remedies in our complimentary therapy for arthritis section.

TENS machine

This stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and refers to a small device which is worn on the body. This device transmits small electrical charges into the skin which dampen down nerve endings and block pain sensations. This is useful for people who have suffered nerve damage as a result of an injury or a condition such as arthritis.

As well as these try applying a hot water bottle to an inflamed joint, or alternately, an ice pack. Massaging the affected area can also help. The aim is to reduce the heat and inflammation in the affected joint which will reduce the pain.

Pain management

This means a range of measures which you can do at home. It includes rest, physiotherapy, exercise (in moderation) and asking for help with everyday tasks.

You may have to make a few changes at home that enable you to look after yourself and with minimal pain. These include using automatic gadgets when preparing and cooking food and ensuring items are close to hand.

Coping with severe pain

If the pain of your arthritis is so severe that it has resulted in a disability and/or has affected your quality of life then you require additional help.

This additional help means referral to a specialist pain management clinic. This clinic will show you ways of coping with severe pain which will enable you to undertake some form of exercise and improve your quality of life.

(Source: Arthritis Care)

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