Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease marked by joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. RA can also lower mobility and flexibility in the affected joints. It usually begins in the small joints in the hands and feet.
As RA advances, these symptoms can spread to other areas, including the:
The more advanced the disease, the more likely you’re to experience chronic pain in various areas of your body outside of your joints, as well.
For example, headaches can be caused by arthritis affecting the first three vertebrae in the spine. Bone spurs can form in damaged joints, leading to extra friction and pain.
As such, you may need more than one strategy for managing RA pain.
A variety of treatments can help you find relief from chronic pain. A doctor or healthcare professional may prescribe one or more of the following treatments.
The first step toward relieving chronic pain from RA is relieving the inflammation that causes it. Starting on a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) as soon as possible can help prevent joint damage, preserve joint function, and improve quality of life. Options include:
- traditional DMARDs
- Janus kinase inhibitors
When you’re experiencing an RA flare, a doctor may also prescribe corticosteroids to help lower joint pain and swelling quickly.
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
For acute, or “right now” pain, OTC pain relievers, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help.
These drugs can help relieve inflammation and all types of pain, from headaches and joint pain to bone spurs.
If you’re interested in trying alternative therapies for your chronic pain, talk with a doctor or physical therapist about these options:
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): TENS uses low-voltage electricity to interfere with how your nerves process pain.
- Acupuncture: This form of alternative medicine involves inserting tiny needles into the skin near nerve endings. It has been used for centuries to manage all types of pain.
- Massage: Getting a massage can lower pain and improve your range of motion. You can even learn self-massage techniques to perform at home on your own.
- Meditation: Utilizing this type of mind-body practice can help lower stress and lessen pain.
These alternative therapies aren’t meant to replace your prescribed RA treatment plan but may be used in conjunction to help with symptom relief.
Incorporating lifestyle changes into your overall RA treatment plan can help you manage chronic pain.
You’ve probably noticed that pain and stiffness are worse when you’ve been inactive for long periods of time. Gentle, low-impact exercise can help loosen stiff joints, strengthen surrounding muscles, and combat pain naturally. RA-friendly activities include:
Daily stretching can improve circulation and flexibility, as well as lower pain. Consider options such as tai chi and yoga. Many yoga positions can even be modified according to your abilities and limitations.
Other gentle stretches, such as wrist bends and finger curls, can help loosen up small joints affected by RA.
Just be sure that you stretch gently and not to the point where you feel pain.
Maintain a moderate weight
Even being just a little overweight can add extra strain on already stressed joints. Not only will losing weight help relieve pain in your joints, it’ll also lower fatigue. It may even motivate or encourage you to exercise.
Apply moist heat
Relaxing in a warm bath or soaking hands and feet in warm water can really help ease RA pain.
Moist heating pads provide direct, penetrating heat on any part of the body. You can find them at many drugstores. Also, a paraffin wax treatment from a local salon or spa may provide relief for some people.
Take a load off
If you have pain when walking, a cane or walker can make a huge difference. These devices can offset a significant portion of your body weight, keeping that strain off of affected joints.
If a certain activity hurts, then it’s probably best to avoid it. This doesn’t mean you have to put your whole life on hold. Take time to think about small, everyday changes you can make in your routine to be kinder to your painful joints.
For instance, consider the following:
- Have lever-style door handles installed in your home to replace traditional doorknobs.
- Slide a heavy object instead of lifting it.
- Hold items in the palms of your hands, rather than gripping them with your fingers.
These and other small adjustments can add up to less pain for you.
If chronic pain is interfering with your life, you’re not alone. Be sure to talk with a healthcare professional about the various medical and nonmedical ways you can lower your pain and get back to living.
Get the answers to a few commonly asked questions about chronic RA pain.
Why am I in so much pain with rheumatoid arthritis?
With RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joints. This leads to symptoms like joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Left untreated, chronic pain can affect other areas of the body. It can also lead to joint damage.
How do you manage chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis?
Proper RA treatment can help control the underlying immune activity that contributes to chronic pain. Many RA treatment plans involve a combination approach that includes:
- disease-modifying mediations
- lifestyle adjustments
- complementary therapies
- everyday modifications
Does rheumatoid arthritis hurt everyday?
RA is unpredictable, and it affects everyone differently. Some days, symptoms can be tolerable or nonexistent. Other days, debilitating symptoms can flare up and affect your ability to function.
However, there are treatments that can help you find relief. If you’re experiencing constant, chronic RA pain, talk to your doctor. Discuss how well your current treatment plan is working and whether or not you’d benefit from a treatment change.
What is the best painkiller for rheumatoid arthritis?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers can be used to manage chronic joint pain. That includes options such as:
However these medications do not address the underlying overactive immune system. They should be used in conjunction with disease-modifying drugs to help prevent joint damage.
Chronic pain is a common RA symptom. A well-rounded treatment plan that incorporates a mix of medication, lifestyle adjustments, and day-to-day modifications can help you find relief. Work with a doctor to determine which options fit best in your individualized RA treatment approach.