Pain has been defined scientifically as an unpleasant, emotional and sensory experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.
Most types of arthritis are associated with pain that can be divided into two general categories: acute and chronic. Acute pain is temporary. Chronic pain ranges from mild to severe, and can last weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime.
Chronic pain is distressing because it affects the sufferer on many levels. It affects them:
It is therefore imperative to manage your pain the best way possible to preserve quality of life. Despite the fact that chronic pain adversely affects the quality of life of patients, it is often poorly managed.
The Pain Relief Quiz
Guide to Arthritis Pain
Where Does it Hurt?
Pain Can Vary
Chronic pain is a major health problem and is one of the most weakening effects of arthritis. Pain can vary greatly from person to person and may come from different factors. These may include:
- inflammation (including joints, tendons and ligaments)
- muscle tension and strain
- nerve damage (neuralgias)
A combination of factors can also contribute to pain intensity. Each person has a different threshold and tolerance for pain, often affected by both physical and emotional factors.
Why Does Pain Tolerance Or Pain Perception Vary?
A Vicious Cycle Of Pain
- Health Problems Cause Stress
- Stress Causes Muscle Tension
- Muscle Tension Increases Pain
Pain management techniques can sever this stress-tension-pain cycle.
Pain Management Techniques — Evaluating What Works
Better ways to manage pain are continually being sought. With pain relief as the goal, sufferers often try a variety of pain management techniques, determining which works best. The success or failure of each type of treatment is individual. What works for one person may not work for another person.
Medications can be used to reduce pain. Commonly prescribed pain medications include:
analgesics (pain relievers and narcotic painkillers)
NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
Pain medications serve to regain some level of comfort, but they do little to change the disease state. The amount of pain medication used must be controlled since there are known side effects.
The Facts Of Analgesics (Painkillers)
The Facts Of NSAIDs
When Are Pain Medications Appropriate For Arthritis Patients?
Exercise can help maintain function and lessen pain. People with arthritis should always discuss exercise plans with their doctor. Some exercises may be off-limits for people with a particular type of arthritis or when joints are swollen and inflamed.
How To Exercise When You Have Arthritis
Exercise: Essential Treatment For Arthritis
Strength Training For People With Arthritis
Arthritis & Exercise Quiz
Hydrotherapy / Warm Water Therapy
Warm water therapy can decrease pain and stiffness. Exercising in a pool, swimspa, or hot tub may be easier because water takes some weight off painful joints. Some also find relief from the heat and movement provided by warm water exercise.
Pools / Pool Equipment for People with Arthritis
When Are Pools, Spas and Other Home Improvements Tax Deductible?
Pain can also be an indicator of the need for rest. It is important to pay attention to the signal and allow the body the required time to recharge. Inflammation decreases during a restful phase, however too much stillness can lead to muscle weakness. It is essential to strike a balance between rest and exercise.
Massage therapy can hasten pain relief, soothe stiff sore muscles, and reduce inflammation and swelling. As muscle tension is relaxed and circulation is increased, pain is decreased.
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) utilizes low-voltage electrical stimulation to the nerves to block pain signals to the brain. Electrodes are placed on the skin and emit the electrical charge. This is used primarily for chronic, localized pain which is intractable.
Often viewed as a last resort option, surgery can be performed with the goal of eliminating pain in a specific joint. Joint replacement surgery has become more common over the years, and is regarded as a viable option when all else has failed. The damaged and painful joint is removed and replaced with a prosthesis. Other surgical options include:
- arthrodesis (fusion)
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Meditation / Relaxation
Meditation and relaxation can ease muscle tension and help fight fatigue. Relaxation techniques may reduce:
- sleeping problems
Deep breathing involves clearing the mind by breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, and rhythmically. You inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, releasing tension.
Progressive Relaxation / Creative Imagery
Progressive relaxation involves lying on your back to systematically tense and relax each part of your body. The relaxation works toward controlling pain. Following progressive relaxation, the mind can be engaged into imagining a pleasant and happy scene. As the mind is occupied with the scene, stress levels diminish, as do pain levels.
Biofeedback uses a combination of relaxation, visualization, and signals from a machine to gain control of pain. As you are attached by electrodes to a machine, you are taught to control blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, and temperature.
Occupational therapy is rooted in physical medicine, psychiatry, and behavioral psychology. The objectives of occupational therapy are:
- to help the pain sufferer determine which activities or behaviors intensify pain
- teach methods for decreasing the amount of time in pain
- use techniques to decrease pain intensity
- help patients become more functional in daily activities and in the workplace
- introduce a lifestyle based on good health habits
Pain management techniques used can include:
- body mechanics (learning to move the body in ways that do not increase pain)
- joint protection
- conserving energy (often by adapting daily activities)
- exercise (can reduce pain by increasing strength)
- developing a focus on abilities rather than limitations
- using adaptive equipment and assistive devices
- relaxation techniques
Morning stiffness is often relieved by the use of hot showers or baths. The warmth of the water relaxes muscles and eases the stiffness. Also beneficial are assistive devices and equipment such as:
- hot packs
- electric blankets
- heating pads
Paraffin wax baths for the hands, feet, and elbows have also been utilized for pain management.
Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, is a preferred treatment for some people as opposed to heat therapy. The cold works to relieve pain by numbing nerve endings in affected areas of the body. It also decreases activity of body cells and slows blood flow, resulting in decreased inflammation. Cold compresses, wrapping a plastic bag filled with ice cubes, or frozen gel packs can be applied locally. People who have Raynaud’s phenomenon should not use this method.
The objective of a pain clinic is to offer some pain management to people with prolonged pain who cannot be helped by medical and surgical treatment options. The goal is to diminish the pain as much as possible and maximize the quality of life within the patients limitations. The approach is usually holistic and may encompass:
- drug management
- nerve blocks
- physical therapy
Mutual support can make an important contribution to pain management. Those living with pain can share insight and draw inspiration from others. People afflicted with pain experience similar difficulties, challenges, and limitations. A unique understanding of what it is like to face these problems connect people to each other.