Pain is not patient. If you’re feeling worse today, you want relief from your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms right away. Unfortunately, none of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. But there are some ways to reduce pain. You may have already tried some, but others may surprise you.
Have you tried topical capsaicin?
Capsaicin is an ingredient in hot peppers. It's put in creams to rub on painful joints. Studies show that capsaicin stimulates the release of a substance that's involved in communicating pain between nerves and parts of the body. At first, capsaicin may increase the sensation of pain, but then it usually decreases the intensity of pain. In studies, people with RA who used topical capsaicin reported less pain.
Are you sure you're taking effective pain medication?
Disease-modifying medications like methotrexate, Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira, and Remicade help control RA over the long run by reducing inflammation and joint damage. But if you are having a flare of pain, you may need an immediate pain reliever. Acetaminophen and NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help ease pain right away, as can a corticosteroid injection. Or, you may need a prescription-strength pain reliever. Call your doctor's office to find out what you should take today. Be sure you keep pain relievers on hand in case of a flare.
Have you looked into electrical stimulation (TENS)?
A TENS unit is a small device that sends electrical signals into your body through electrodes placed on your skin near the area of pain. It's not clear exactly how TENS works, but it does help some people with RA. One theory is that TENS stimulates the nerves and interrupts normal pain signals. Another theory is that TENS may trigger the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. Most people feel less pain while the TENS unit is working. But pain usually returns once the unit is turned off. However, a TENS unit in your home may get you through a particularly painful flare of RA symptoms.
Have you considered joint injections?
Steroid injections reduce inflammation and pain quickly in the specific joints that hurt. They're one of the most effective ways to reduce pain in one or two swollen joints. You may already know about corticosteroid pills and their side effects. But injections directly into a joint cause fewer side effects than pills. The downside? You can't get steroid injections more than once every 3 or 4 months because they can weaken your bones and tissue. Injections aren't a cure for RA, but they can help you get through a rough patch.
Do you ever use ice or heat?
Ice and heat may be old-fashion remedies, but they help a lot of people with arthritis. A cold compress, ice pack, or a frozen bag of peas on a painful joint can help ease swelling. Try ice packs for 15 minutes at a time with 30-minute breaks in between.