How to relieve arthritis pain: 11 effective options
Arthritis is a common medical condition characterized by inflammation in the joints. This leads to pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility. It affects people of all ages, and the most common forms include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.
While there is no cure for arthritis, many effective options — from arthritis medication and exercise to alternative therapies — can help relieve arthritis pain and inflammation.
What works for one person won’t always work for another. You might consider trying a few of the options below to find the remedies that work best for you and your lifestyle. Note that the following list is in no particular order.
1. Medications for pain and inflammation
Several types of medications can help relieve arthritis pain, including:
NSAIDs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are substances that cause pain and inflammation. You can take them orally or apply them topically to the affected joint. A topical formulation called diclofenac is available in the United States as a gel, liquid, and patch.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, topical NSAIDs may be especially effective on small joints, such as the hands, knees, ankles, and elbows. Topical options have a lower risk of side effects than oral NSAIDs.
Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can quickly relieve pain and reduce inflammation. You can take these drugs orally, inject them directly into the affected joint, or take them intravenously for severe pain.
Types of corticosteroids include:
Chloroquine is an antimalarial drug used to treat various autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Research suggests chloroquine has anti-inflammatory effects, so it can help reduce pain and inflammation caused by arthritis.
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2. Physical therapy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that physical therapy and gentle exercises can help improve joint mobility and reduce pain. Options include walking, swimming, and yoga.
Strengthening exercises, such as weightlifting and resistance training, can also help improve joint health while reducing pain and inflammation.
A physical therapist can develop a personalized exercise plan tailored to your specific needs and condition.
3. Arthritis supplements
However, more research is needed to confirm their effectiveness. Talking with your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen is important, as they may interact with other medications.
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4. Heat and cold therapy
Applying hot or cold compresses to the affected joints can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
Hot therapy, such as warm baths or heat packs, can relax tight muscles and improve blood flow. Cold therapy, such as ice packs, can help reduce swelling and numb joint pain.
5. Assistive devices
Using assistive devices can reduce stress on your joints and reduce pain. A physical therapist can help you determine which devices may be best for you.
Mobility aids that can help with arthritis joint pain include:
This practice in Traditional Chinese medicine involves inserting needles into specific points on the body to relieve pain and improve function. Research, including a 2020 study, shows that acupuncture can effectively reduce arthritis pain, improve joint mobility, and reduce inflammation.
7. Weight management
Excess weight places additional strain on weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips, which can worsen arthritis symptoms. Managing your weight can reduce the stress on these joints and help relieve pain.
8. Topical creams
You can apply creams to the skin to help relieve joint pain. Creams that contain the following ingredients can help:
- methyl salicylate
Capsaicin, found in chili peppers, works by reducing the levels of substance P, which is responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain.
9. Herbs and spices
Certain spices can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain associated with arthritis. Herbs and spices for arthritis include:
Ginger and turmeric contain anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce swelling and improve joint function. Willow bark, the natural source of salicylic acid, can also help relieve pain.
According to a 2020 review, some of these herbs and spices have been used in complementary medicine for thousands of years. The researchers say garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and saffron supplements are associated with reduced rheumatoid arthritis activity.
10. A nutritious diet
Research, including a 2021 study, says that eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce inflammation and relieve arthritis pain.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as:
- fatty fish
Anti-inflammatory foods that may reduce arthritis pain include:
- green tea
- dark chocolate
Additionally, a diet low in processed and refined foods can help improve joint health and reduce inflammation.
11. Massage therapy
Massage therapy for arthritis can help:
- improve circulation
- reduce pain and stiffness
- improve joint mobility
Massage therapy can be performed by a licensed massage therapist or at home using a foam roller or massage ball.
When to see a doctor
While there are many effective treatments for arthritis pain, It is important to talk with your doctor to find the best solution for your needs and to avoid any treatments that may interact with other medications or health conditions.
You may want to see a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- persistent pain
- increased joint pain or pain spreading to new joints
- limited mobility, meaning you have trouble performing your daily activities due to arthritis pain
- swelling and stiffness
- redness and warmth in your joints, as these may be signs of infection
- changes in joint shape
Arthritis is a common condition characterized by pain and inflammation in the joints.
There are many treatment options for arthritis pain, including medications, supplements, hot and cold therapy, and massage.
If you’re having persistent pain or side effects from medication, it is important to see a doctor for a proper evaluation and treatment plan. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of arthritis and improve joint health.
- Arthritis and joint pain management. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/pain/joint-pain-management.htm
- Arthritis types. (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/types.html
- Letarouilly JG, et al. (2020). Efficacy of spice supplementation in rheumatoid arthritis: A systematic literature review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7764619/
- Liu X, et al. (2016). Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29018060/
- Physical activity for arthritis. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/physical-activity-overview.html
- Rainsford KD, et al. (2015). Therapy and pharmacological properties of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and related diseases. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26246395/
- Schönenberger KA, et al. (2021). Effect of anti-inflammatory diets on pain in rheumatoid arthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8706441/
- Topical NSAIDs offer joint pain relief. (n.d.). https://www.arthritis.org/drug-guide/medication-topics/topical-nsaids-offer-joint-pain-relief
- Tu J-F, et al. (2020). Efficacy of intensive acupuncture versus sham acupuncture in knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/art.41584