What Are the Different Types of Pain Management for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Jillian O Keeffe

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints of the body. As it is a long term condition, knowing how to alleviate pain as well as working to keep the symptoms as controlled as possible, is often useful to patients. Pain management for rheumatoid arthritis can involve medicines, treatment with heat or cold, or even electrical stimulation of the nerves. Physical therapy can also help reduce pain levels, and rest of the affected joint can be useful for short periods of time.

Keeping an open dialog with their doctor helps most people ensure their arthritis pain is well-managed.
Keeping an open dialog with their doctor helps most people ensure their arthritis pain is well-managed.

Pain and inflammation occur in rheumatoid arthritis because the immune system of the body begins to attack its own joints. This gives doctors one characteristic of the disease to target with medication. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to reduce inflammation, soreness, and the pain of the immune response. Ibuprofen is an example of an NSAID.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation of the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation of the joints.

NSAIDs are commonly used as pain management for rheumatoid arthritis, even in the early stages where affected patients have not yet received a definitive diagnosis. Other medications that may offer painkilling effects, but without an ability to dampen down the immune response, can also be beneficial. If the person with the arthritis also suffers from nerve pain, pain management for rheumatoid arthritis can also include drugs that act specifically on the nerves, such as amitriptyline.

Treatment with heat or cold can also alleviate swelling and relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. This can be as a home remedy or a specifically designed clinical treatment. Possible home remedies using heat include hot baths and heat packs, and some people find relief with direct application of ice packs or frozen bags of vegetables on the affected joint. Using machinery, health-care clinics can administer heat treatments using such techniques as ultrasound, infrared radiation and microwave therapy.

Another technological option for a person who needs pain management for rheumatoid arthritis is Electrical Nerve Stimulation (ENS). This method of pain relief involves zapping nerves in the painful area with small amounts of electrical energy, which can reduce the pain signal that normally comes through those nerves. Although rest is frequently an attractive option for people who suffer pain when using a joint, if the joint does not get regular use the pain can become worse.

Exercise is one option for pain management of rheumatoid arthritis, especially exercise that puts as little stress on the joints as possible, such as swimming. For joints that are not suffering acute attacks of inflammation, a person with rheumatoid arthritis may find it beneficial to strengthen and stretch the joints. Medical devices that restrain movement of the joint, such as a wrist splint, may also be used intermittently to reduce inflammation and therefore pain.

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