Medications aren’t the only way to treat osteoarthritis (OA) pain. You may not even need them.
You can do many things on your own to ease joint aches and stiffness. Simple steps like exercises, home pain-relief remedies, and simple lifestyle changes can help you feel much better with OA.
Get Up and Move
You may think you need to stay on the couch and rest your aching joints. But regular exercise makes OA symptoms feel better. It loosens up your joints. It strengthens your muscles that support your joints. It helps prevent falls from poor balance.
So get some exercise every day if you can. Start with simple activities like a walk with your dog or a friend. Join a water exercise, yoga, or tai chi class. Hop on a stationary bike in your living room.
If you’re just starting a workout routine, talk to your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist first. They can help you get going at a pace that you can handle and include the right kinds of moves, like:
- Exercises to build stronger muscles that support your joints
- Activities that get your heart pumping
- Stretches that improve your joint range of motion
Try Heat or Cold
If your OA is in one or two joints, apply heat or cold to ease the pain. Hot or cold packs are simple to make, don’t cost very much, and can offer quick pain relief.
When to use heat: When your joint is stiff, a bit achy, or just worn out after a lot of activity. You can also use it to loosen stiff joints before you exercise or go to work.
When to use cold: When your joint is more painful or mildly swollen.
Easy heat treatments include a moist heating pad you can buy at your drugstore, a warm shower or bath, or a soak in a jetted bathtub. To soothe an achy hand or foot, dip it in a hot paraffin wax treatment (look for them at the drugstore). Or warm up a wet washcloth for a few seconds in the microwave and wrap it around your sore joint. Just be careful not to place anything too hot directly on your skin -- protect it with a towel or cloth.
For quick cold relief, place a bag of frozen veggies or crushed ice in a soft towel, then place it on your sore joint for up to 20 minutes. You can also buy gel packs that you store in the freezer and take out when pain flares up in a joint.
Slip Into New Shoes
The right footwear can ease OA pain because it eases pressure on your joints. Choose shoes that have lower heels and a supportive fit. You should feel stable when you walk.
Make sure you’re wearing the correct shoe size. There should be about 3/4 inch between your longest toe and the shoe’s front. When you walk, your shoe shouldn’t move up and down the back of your heel or slip off.
If you have bony bumps on your toes from OA, you may need roomier shoes. Check out styles that fasten with Velcro. They’re easier to put on and take off.
Grab Your Walking Stick
Over time, OA can make your joints weak or unstable. It’s easy to slip and fall. You may need a little extra support to get around. A walking stick or cane can help.
These tools also take pressure off knees, hips, ankles, and feet with OA. They help you feel less pain when you go up and down stairs, get out of a car, or get up from a deep chair.
Try a brace or sleeve to support sore, weak joints like a knee, wrist, ankle, or elbow. You can buy them at the drugstore, or ask your physical therapist to fit you with one.
Stress and anxiety often make OA pain worse. Try soothing mind-body therapies to relax tight, sore muscles, calm your mood, and ease those aches.
You can do many of these therapies on your own, including:
- Meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction
- Guided imagery: Focus on calming scenery, like the beach, or imagine your pain floating away
- Progressive muscle relaxation: a series of moves that flex and release tension in the muscles around your joints
Set the Right Pace
OA joint pain gets worse when you overdo activity. While you can’t always help it, try to set a pace for your lifestyle that doesn’t push you too much.
Plan ahead if you can. Split up tasks during the day so you have time to rest and recharge. Take quick breaks from physical activities to stretch your joints.
Remember that it’s OK to say no to some invitations. Get help with a task if you think it’s too much to do on your own. Pace yourself so you keep your OA pain in check. You can save your energy for the things you love the most.