Joint pain and arthritis
How to ease your joint pain and stay mobile
Whether you're experiencing a new joint pain or are living with arthritis, we've put together some help and advice to support your pain throughout the day. From common symptoms and causes to medication and drug-free treatment, read on for the latest pain relief support.
What is arthritis?
About 10 million people in the UK have arthritis*, a condition that causes painful joints and is often accompanied by changes in the shape of the joint.
There are many causes of joint pain, from strains and injuries to arthritis. Arthritis is a group of conditions which involve one or more joints in the body. There are more than a hundred types, the two main types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, with osteoarthritis affecting at least 8 million people in the UK**. This type of arthritis is caused by wear and tear to joints, which can happen as we age. For general joint pain, scroll to the bottom for further joint pain advice.
It is the most common form of arthritis. Joint pain can be more common in people with certain jobs. Suggesting the way a joint is used over a long period of time is a factor in development of osteoarthritis. When the cartilage between the bones in the joints becomes destroyed, the bones rub directly onto each other causing pain. The most commonly affected joints are the knees, spine, hips and hands.
Signs of osteoarthritis that you might notice are increased pain or stiffness when you haven't moved your joints in a while, along with a grating or cracking sound or sensation in your joints. Your joints may also appear slightly larger than usual and result in a limited range of movement.
The best treatment for your osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can initially be managed through lifestyle changes, such as exercise. When you do need a painkiller, the first choice tends to be paracetamol, often taken regularly for the full effect. If paracetamol isn't effective, you can try an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like ibuprofen. Topical NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen gel, are often useful for hand or knee arthritis. And corticosteroid injections into the joint are also sometimes used.
A fault in the immune system causes the body to attack the joints causing pain and swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect children as well as adults. Flare ups are a common feature in this type of arthritis, and pain and stiffness may be worse in the morning.
Although rheumatoid arthritis also causes joint pain it doesn't have the same symptoms as osteoarthritis. It causes swelling and also redness around the joints (often starting in the hands and feet) and can affect the whole body, along with extreme fatigue, that's more than just normal tiredness.
The best treatment for your rheumatoid arthritis
As well as painkillers, treatment for rheumatoid arthritis often involves medicines which tone down the immune system. If you're taking these you'll need to have regular blood tests and report any symptoms, such as a sore throat. NSAIDs are also commonly used to reduce swelling.
If you're prescribed a regular oral NSAID for arthritis, you may need to take some extra medication to protect your stomach. Just ask your pharmacist or doctor for more information.
Topical treatments for joint pain
Topical treatments, those that are applied directly to the area, are commonly used for joint pain and there is evidence they can help relieve osteoarthritis pain in your knees and hands particularly. Hand and knee osteoarthritis is usually treated with creams containing NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which you can get over the counter at your local LloydsPharmacy. They are best applied with a gentle massage, using the amount specified on the leaflet.
Drug-free pain relief
If you’re looking to ease your pain without medication, there are various options out there if you want to try drug-free alternatives or something to use in combination with medication.
Hot and cold treatments
Warmth has been used for many years to help relieve pain and stiffness. As well as a warm bath or shower, you could try heat packs that can be placed on the area which is in pain to help.
Cold can relieve swelling which can then ease pain. You can apply an ice pack or cold pack for up to 20 minutes every couple of hours. Some people use a mixture of both hot and cold alternately. It’s best to try a few options to find what is right for you.
What else you can do to help relieve joint pain?
Although strains and sprains can often be the cause of painful joints, there are other causes to watch out for, including cold weather, along with gout, bursitis and arthritis.
- Take regular exercise - it helps build the muscles that support the joint, helping with pain. Choose gentle low impact exercises such as swimming and speak to your GP first if you're not used to exercise
- Keep to a healthy weight - excess weight can put more stress on joints such as your knees
- Pace your activities and don't do too much in one go
- Keep warm - many people find their joints hurt more in the cold and wet, so keep well wrapped up
- Alongside your painkillers you can also use a TENS* machine, like the LloydsPharmacy joint pain reliever, and other drug-free products, such as hot and cold packs. To find out more about how TENS machines work and their benefits click here
Exercising with joint pain and arthritis
Having a healthy lifestyle, along with the right treatment or management can help to reduce joint pain. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the impact on your joints and staying active can help to improve the strength of your joints.Exercise can help keep your muscles strong so that they can support and keep the joints mobile.
60.7% of those with back pain and 56.6% of those with joint pain usually rest rather than exercise when they’re in pain.
These low impact exercises could help with joint pain:
- Cycling can give you a good workout, is gentle on your joints and you can enjoy it with all the family
- Swimming is easy on the joints too and it also works all the muscles in your body, so can help keep you in shape too
- Using weights or resistance bands can help boost the muscles around your joints, helping to make them stronger and more stable
- Yoga or Pilates can also help strengthen your joints and maintain mobility
For strengthening exercises, start with as many repetitions you can comfortably do and then build up gradually. When doing exercises, slowly move as far as you can until you feel a stretch in the muscles around the joints. Then hold still in the position, aiming for 20 seconds.
Exercise 1 - sit on a chair and using one leg at a time, pull your toes up, tighten your thigh muscle and straighten your knee.
Exercise 2 - Stand in front of a chair and hold on with both hands for support. Slowly crouch keeping your back straight and heels on the floor.
Don't forget, if you have arthritis, it's advisable to check with your GP before starting any new exercises.
Speak to your pharmacist or GP about joint pain if:
- You have symptoms of arthritis but haven't been diagnosed
- Your pain isn't controlled
- You're on medicines to tone down your immune system and you get symptoms such as a sore throat - seek urgent advice as this may be a sign of a blood disorder
- Your joint pain becomes worse
- There are any changes in your condition
- You regularly buy diclofenac or ibuprofen products
The cold can also make joint and muscles pain worse. Making sure that you wrap up warm during the winter months and ease aching joints with a hot bath or hot water bottle.
If your joint pain is stemming from an injury or strain, try to rest and apply a cold pack for 15-20 minutes every two-three hours during the day. You could also bandage it to contain swelling and keep it raised if possible. It's best to start using the joint soon to keep it mobile, but always see your GP if there's no improvement.
***Survey of 2,000 respondents. February 2019. Commissioned by LloydsPharmacy, conducted by 3GemA