Managing Psoriatic Arthritis: Beyond Medication

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on June 30, 2023
5 min read

You want to do something about your sore and swollen joints. Can you save yourself a trip to the doctor? Do you really have to take that prescription?

Medications aren't the only way to ease these symptoms. But you'll probably need to take something to control inflammation and prevent long-term joint damage. Don't try to treat psoriatic arthritis without your doctor's help.

Whether or not you're taking medication, you can try other things to help you feel better.

The best way to improve your symptoms is to get moving with gentle, low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, yoga, and tai chi. Movement can lessen pain and expand your range of motion. These activities may also help you relax, ease your stress, and sleep better.

Do simple stretches every day to help you work out the kinks and keep your joints flexible.

You should also do exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your joints.

Before you start a new kind of exercise, talk to your doctor to make sure it's safe for you. To learn an exercise like yoga or tai chi, take a class where you can have someone check your form. Tell your teacher or trainer that you have psoriatic arthritis, so they don't let you do any moves that could hurt your joints.

Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist, who can set up a safe and effective exercise plan for you. They can also show you other ways to improve movement and decrease pain, including:

  • Good posture and body mechanics
  • How to use assistive devices, like canes or splints
  • Changes to make in your home or work environment to allow you to do activities without pain

If you're having trouble doing certain activities, you might also see an occupational therapist.

They'll help you find ways to more easily and comfortably do things like cooking, sleeping, driving, household chores, and socializing. You'll also learn how to prevent further pain, manage fatigue, and save energy.

Hydrotherapy is exercise done in a heated pool. A physical therapist can teach you how to do special, gentle exercises to improve your strength and range of motion.

Warm water can ease joint stiffness. It also provides resistance to your muscles to help strengthen them.

You can also try pool walking on your own. Or look for a water exercise class specially designed for people with arthritis.

Once you get out of the water, follow your usual psoriasis skin care routine. 

Massage may loosen up muscles, ease pain and stiffness, and help you relax your joints. Spas and clinics offer massages, or you could have a massage therapist come to your home.

Acupuncture and acupressure may also ease your pain. In acupuncture, the therapist inserts tiny, thin needles into specific spots on your body related to your pain. An acupressure therapist presses firmly into your skin with fingers instead.

Ask your doctor to help you find a good therapist. You should also tell them about your condition before you begin treatment.

You may get temporary relief by applying a different temperature around your sore joints.

Moist heat can also help relax aching muscles and ease soreness and stiffness. Use a warm towel, heat pack, or paraffin bath, or take a warm (not hot) bath or shower.

Cold therapy can bring down swelling and numb pain. Use a bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel.

If your psoriatic arthritis affects your feet and/or hands, practice self-care to help relieve symptoms and prevent injuries that may lead to flares:

  • Apply cold packs to your feet and hands to relieve swelling and aching. Use them on a 10-minute-on, 10-minute-off schedule.
  • Stay away from high heels and uncomfortable shoes. Try shoe inserts or heel pads to protect your feet.
  • Never wear damp shoes. Buy pairs made of breathable material, like leather or cloth. Have at least two pairs of athletic shoes so they have time to dry out between wearings.  
  • Keep fingernails and toenails short. Just make sure they're not too short -- that can cause bleeding.
  • Avoid long soaks during manicures or pedicures. And don't allow the manicurist to push back your cuticles. Both can harm your skin.

Herbs, supplements, and skin treatments that people commonly use for psoriatic arthritis and related psoriasis include:

No medical studies prove that these will ease your symptoms, though.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn't control these products, and they may not contain the ingredients listed on the package. Be careful, and talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Let them know everything you're trying to manage your disease.

Some people claim that certain diets, such as eating only gluten-free foods, will ease inflammation. Your symptoms may get better if you follow these diets, but there's no proof they work.

Your best bet? Stay at a healthy weight. It helps ease your inflammation, joint pain, and fatigue. A nutritious diet is also a good idea to help you avoid heart disease. Having psoriatic arthritis makes it more likely that you'll get it.

Tension can make your symptoms worse, and everyone has it. It doesn't have to come from a sudden crisis. Little day-to-day things can add up. And you've got a built-in source: dealing with a serious, ongoing disease.

Exercise can help you work off stress and boost your mood. Meditation can help you feel calm and clear-headed. Because deep breathing and focus are parts of yoga and tai chi, these practices offer the perks of both exercise and meditation.

Aromatherapy can also help you relax. A soothing scent could take the edge off of a stressful setting. But putting oils in bath water or directly on your skin might irritate it.

If your worries are getting in the way of your life or seem overwhelming, consider talking to a counselor or therapist.