Being in pain can be the most difficult part of living with rheumatoid arthritis. While medicines help, they don't always make the pain go away completely. In fact, most people with rheumatoid arthritis are faced with frequent or ongoing pain that affects their outlook on life and can lead to depression and anger.
While you may not be able to avoid pain, you can take control of the situation with strategies that keep pain in its place.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful inflammatory disease that causes swelling, stiffness, joint destruction, and deformity. This autoimmune disease has an effect on the cells that coat and lubricate joints (synovial tissue).
Osteoarthritis (the "wear and tear" arthritis") may often affect just one joint even though it can affect multiple joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, though, typically affects multiple joints and usually happens symmetrically. For instance, RA may affect the same joint...
Understanding your pain will better help you deal with it. There are a number of types of pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis:
Acute pain from inflammation; anyone with rheumatoid arthritis knows the pain that comes with a flare.
Pain from joint damage; joints may become damaged over time by rheumatoid arthritis and cause pain, even though your arthritis itself is inactive.
Exacerbation of pain; after living a long time with pain and the other struggles of rheumatoid arthritis, you can get stressed and worn out. The real pain you feel is made worse by your emotional state.
Most people with rheumatoid arthritis will experience all of these types of pain. This can become a complicated and overwhelming situation and requires an overall approach. There are educational programs available to help people who have to live with pain. They can help you:
Learn how pain works, why it happens, and what it means
Gain coping and life-management skills for when you are in pain
Get trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy or biofeedback; these are methods of reducing the pain you feel by using your mind.
Contact the Arthritis Foundation to see what your local chapter offers.
Come Up With a Pain Management Plan
When pain strikes, consider it a signal to take positive action, not to give in and suffer. There are a number of tools at your disposal to manage pain. Experiment until you find what works for you. Here are suggestions:
Consider taking your pain medication on a schedule, rather than waiting until you are in more pain and have to play "catch-up." Severe rheumatoid arthritis pain may require maximum doses of NSAIDs, although side effects may limit their use at higher doses.
Escape from stressful situations and relax your mind. Meditation can help relieve pain, and is a skill that can be learned.
Focusing on pain makes it worse, not better. Do something you enjoy instead -- or any activity that keeps you busy and has you thinking about something else.
Use heat or cold to alleviate pain, and massage. These tried-and-true treatments are easy and can provide some quick relief for mild symptoms.
Nurture a Healthy Attitude to Fight Arthritis Pain
No one should have to live with arthritis pain. It doesn't seem fair, and it's not. It is natural to sometimes feel like a victim, or experience any number of other emotions -- frustration, depression, anxiety, despair, anger.