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Coping With the Pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Being in pain can be the hardest part of living with rheumatoid arthritis. While medications help, they don't always make the pain go away completely.

Coping with pain means acknowledging that the problem is not just the pain itself. Constant pain has an effect on your whole life.

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Most people with rheumatoid arthritis are faced with frequent or ongoing pain. While you may not be able to avoid pain, you can take control of the situation. Is the pain of rheumatoid arthritis starting to affect your life? There are specific positive steps you can take to live with it -- but keep it in its place:

Get Educated About Arthritis Pain

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 disease flare-up.
  • Pain from joint damage. Joints may become damaged over time by rheumatoid arthritis and cause pain even though the inflammation from 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. The benefits they provide can make a big difference.

  • 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 the mind.

Contact the Arthritis Foundation to find your local chapter and sign up.

Make an Arthritis Pain Management Plan

When arthritis pain strikes, consider it a signal to take positive action, not to give in and suffer. Even if you are not able to eliminate pain completely, you are doing what you can to help yourself. There are a number of tools at your disposal to manage pain. Experiment until you find what works for you.

  • Pain drugs. Consider taking your pain medications on a schedule, rather than waiting until you are in more pain and have to play "catch-up." Severe rheumatoid arthritis pain usually requires maximum doses of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), although side effects must be considered at higher doses.
  • Meditation and relaxation. Escape from stressful situations and relax your mind. Meditation can help relieve pain, and it is a skill that can be learned.
  • Distraction. 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.
  • Heat, cold, and massage. These tried-and-true treatments are easy and can provide some quick relief for mild symptoms.

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