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Pain Management Health Center

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Joint Pain

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Topical Agents

Capsaicin --- a substance found in chili peppers -- may relieve joint pain from arthritis and other conditions. Capsaicin blocks substance P, which helps transmit pain signals, and it triggers the release of chemicals in the body called endorphins, which block pain. Side effects of capsaicin cream include burning or stinging in the area where it is applied. Another topical option is an arthritis cream containing the ingredient, methyl salicylate (Ben Gay).


For people who don't find joint pain relief from oral or topical medications, the doctor can inject a steroid medication (which may be combined with a local anesthetic) directly into the joint every three months to four months. Steroid injections are most commonly used in patients with arthritis, joint disease, or tendinitis. The procedure is effective, but in most situations the effect be temporary. It can also have side effects; if steroid injections mask an injury, you could overuse the joint and damage it even further.

Other injection options include:

  • Removing fluid from the joint (and is often done in connection with a steroid injection)
  • Injections of hyaluronan, a synthetic version of the natural joint fluid. This is used to treat osteoarthritis

Physical Therapy

You can work with a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles around the joint, stabilize the joint, and improve your range of motion. The therapist will use techniques such as ultrasound, heat or cold therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and manipulation.

If you are overweight, losing weight can relieve some of the pressure on your painful joints. Exercise is one effective way to lose weight (along with diet), but be careful to stick with low-impact exercises that won't further irritate the joint. Swimming and bicycling are among the best exercises because both allow you to exercise your joints without putting impact on them. Because water is buoyant, swimming also relieves some of the pressure on your joints.

Home Care

You can relieve short-term joint pain with a few simple techniques at home. One method is known by the acronym, PRICE:

  • Protect the joint with a brace or wrap.
  • Rest the joint, avoiding any activities that cause you pain.
  • Ice the joint for about 15 minutes, several times each day.
  • Compress the joint using an elastic wrap.
  • Elevate the joint above the level of your heart.

Applying ice to your painful joints can relieve the pain and inflammation. For muscle spasms around joints, try using a heating pad or wrap several times a day. Your doctor may recommend that you tape or splint the joint to minimize movement or reduce pain, but avoid keeping the joint still for too long because it can eventually become stiff and lose function.

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