What Can I Do About the RA Pain I Feel Right Now?

When your rheumatoid arthritis flares up, you're probably in no mood to start last-minute research on how to get relief. Check out treatment ideas now so you're ready to go when pain and stiffness strike.

Use Ice or Heat

They're classic remedies, and a lot of people swear by them. Put a cold compress or ice pack (wrapped in a towel) on your painful and swollen joint. Use the ice packs for 15 minutes at a time with 30-minute breaks in between.

Moist heat can help relax muscles and ease aches, pain, and stiffness. Wrap a warm towel or pad around the area that hurts. Or try a warm bath or shower.

Relax Your Muscles

Try a technique called "progressive muscle relaxation." To do this, tense or tighten one muscle group and then relax it. Take deep breaths as you do. Start at your feet. Move slowly up your body, ending with the muscles of your face.

Get More Sleep

When you don't get enough shut-eye, you not only feel tired, but your joints will hurt too.

To get a better night's sleep, go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Try to get some exercise every day. Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. And don't forget to "unplug" your bedroom: Turn off TVs, computers, and phones.

If you still need more help, talk to your doctor.

Try Creams Made With Capsaicin

It's an ingredient in hot peppers. Studies show it can ease pain when you rub your joints with cream that's got some in it.

One thing to keep in mind, though: At first you may feel more pain, but then it usually eases up.

Keep Painkillers Handy

Some RA drugs help control your condition over the long run by reducing inflammation and joint damage. But when you have a flare of pain, you want relief right away. Talk to your doctor about how to be prepared.

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help do the job. Or you may need to call your doctor's office for another treatment.

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Get Joint Injections

Steroid shots calm inflammation and pain quickly. Injections directly into your joint cause fewer side effects than corticosteroid pills.

The downside? You can't get steroid shots more than once every 3 or 4 months, because they can weaken your bones and tissue. They're not a cure for RA, but they can help you get through a rough patch.

Consider Electrical Stimulation (TENS)

Although it's rarely used for RA, it may help. TENS is a small device that sends electrical signals into your body through electrodes placed on your skin near the area that hurts. It's not clear exactly how it works, but it gives some people relief.

One theory is that it interrupts pain signals in your nerves. Another idea is that it triggers the release of endorphins -- chemicals that are your body's natural painkillers.

A TENS unit in your home may get you through a flare-up. Most people hurt less while the device is on, but after they turn it off, the pain usually comes back.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on March 16, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Today: "Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Relief Without Drugs" and "Progressive Muscle Relaxation."

American College of Rheumatology: "Joint Injection/Aspiration."

Brosseau, L. The Cochrane Library: "Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in the hand." Published online January 21, 2009.

University of Maryland School of Medicine. Cochrane CAM Field: "Rheumatoid Arthritis."

Lyster, F. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, February 2011.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Rheumatoid Arthritis." 

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society: "Sleep Improvement Strategies."

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