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Coping With the Pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis

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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.

Nurture a Healthy Attitude Towards 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
  • Despair
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

While these emotions are normal human responses to chronic pain, they don't help you feel any better. In fact, just the opposite -- they can bog you down in negative thoughts, making the situation worse.

There is nothing positive about pain, but you can take a positive approach to living with it. Know the strategies and commit to giving them a chance.

  • Cognitive-behavioral training. This is a kind of psychotherapy you can do yourself. A psychologist or other mental health professional can teach you the methods. Cognitive-behavioral training can help you avoid negative thoughts that make pain worse.
  • Join a support group. Being with people who understand what you're dealing with makes you feel less alone.
  • Exercise. Believe it or not, exercise will make your joints feel better, not worse. Even if you're in pain, there are some exercises you can do. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist. Build an exercise schedule into your treatment plan and stick to it. Over time, the results can be dramatic.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet. Drink alcohol only in moderation. Don't smoke! Cigarettes, alcohol, or unhealthy foods can seem comforting when you are in pain, but in the long-term they won't help. You deserve better -- you deserve the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Get additional support from a mental health professional. The vast majority of people with rheumatoid arthritis are not mentally ill, but being in chronic pain can cause feelings of depression. Asking for help can be a sign of strength, not weakness.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on June 10, 2013
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