chili pepper flakes and powder
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Rub on Capsaicin

This is the stuff that gives chili peppers their heat. When you put it on your skin, it blocks pain signals. Capsaicin comes in creams, gels, and patches. One study found that people who used capsaicin cream daily for a month (along with other arthritis medications) had their arthritis pain eased by 57%. Before trying it, dab a little on first to make sure you’re not allergic.

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hand soaking in paraffin bath
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Dip Your Hands or Feet Into Wax

With a paraffin bath, you dip your hands or feet into melted wax that's heated to a safe temperature in a special machine. After it hardens, you wrap the area in a plastic sheet to trap in the heat. After about 20 minutes, you peel the wax off. Research shows that this may ease arthritis pain and stiffness for some people. Talk with your doctor or a physical therapist to see if it might help you.

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pain patch on elbow
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Put on a Pain Patch

Over-the-counter pain patches have medicines that are taken in through your skin, like menthol and camphor. These ingredients made from plants can create cold or hot feelings, which may affect pain signals. Other patches include lidocaine, which causes a numbing feeling, or salicylates, which have the same pain-relieving substance as aspirin. Research suggests these patches can help some, but they wear off quickly. 

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leg lift
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Move Around Gently

During a flare, it’s tempting to spend all day in bed. While resting is good, you should try to keep moving, too, to keep your joints from getting too stiff. You might sit down and slowly raise and lower your legs. Or gently spread your fingers apart then bring them together. But don’t overdo it. If a movement causes more pain, stop right away.

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meditation class
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Keep Your Stress in Check

Research shows that worrying can make your rheumatoid arthritis worse and make you more tired. To manage your stress, carve out at least 15 minutes each day to unwind. Meditation can help ease anxiety and depression. Or choose your own relaxing activity, like deep breathing, sitting outside in the sunshine, or simply watching the sunset.

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back massage
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Get a Gentle Massage

This can do more than leave you feeling relaxed and help with arthritis pain and stiffness. It may also improve your muscle strength. But before getting one, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe. Gentle to moderate pressure is best; don't put too much pressure around any affected joint. You can go to a massage therapist, recruit a friend, or give yourself a massage. 

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finger splint
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Use a Brace or Splint

These support swollen, painful joints and let them rest. They also can align joints and help them work better. Wearing a splint or brace may also prevent deformities caused by rheumatoid arthritis, like crooked fingers. You can use one on your wrist, finger, ankle, or feet joints. You wear some while you sleep or rest, while others help ease pain throughout the day.

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woman on beach
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Practice Guided Imagery

This is a type of therapy where you create visions in your mind. For example, you might picture yourself on a serene beach, breathing deeply as your pain floats away. This practice helps you relax and handle discomfort better. Research shows that it lowers pain, stress, and anxiety in people who have arthritis. To get started, ask your doctor about therapists or classes. There are also audiobooks, CDs, and online resources.

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compression socks
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Wear Compression Garments

These garments, like socks, sleeves, and gloves, use gentle pressure to boost blood flow. They also may help with swelling from a flare. You can wear socks or stockings to ease foot and ankle pain, and gloves (sometimes called arthritis or therapy gloves) can soothe aching fingers and wrists. When you wear these items, check the skin underneath often to make sure it doesn’t get red or irritated.

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tens treatment
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Try TENS

This small machine sends low-voltage currents through patches on your skin. It’s not clear how TENS works, but one theory is the electricity affects pain signals. It may also trigger endorphins, chemicals that are your body’s natural painkillers. Research is mixed, but some studies suggest that doing TENS 15 minutes a day eases joint pain and boosts muscle strength. You can buy a TENS unit to use at home, but talk to your doctor first.

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woman soaking in tub
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Draw a Warm Bath

The water’s warmth relaxes your muscles and eases stiff, painful joints. It also helps your circulation and takes pressure off your joints. The bath doesn’t have to be steaming hot; aim for a temperature between 92 and 100 F. For more benefits, add Epsom salt. It has magnesium, a mineral that may help with swelling. Soak for about 20 minutes. A hot tub or Jacuzzi is another option, but don't stay in longer than 10 to 15 minutes.

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heating pad on neck
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Use a Heating Pad

Heat relaxes your muscles and boosts your blood flow, bringing nutrients to your joints and muscles. To turn up the heat, put a heating pad on the aching joint for 20 minutes at a time. Place a towel or T-shirt beneath the pad to protect your skin. Or make your own by putting a wet washcloth in a microwave-safe bag. Heat it for 1 minute and wrap it with a towel. You can also use an electric blanket.

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frozen vegetables ice pack
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Put on an Ice Pack

Cold numbs nerve endings and slows your blood circulation to ease swelling. Wrap a bag of ice or frozen vegetables in a towel and put it on the joint. Leave it there for no more than 20 minutes at a time. You can also make an ice pack by freezing 2 cups of water and 1 cup of rubbing alcohol in a leakproof bag. Or soak the painful area, such as your hands or feet, in a container of ice and water.

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layered clothing
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Dress in Light Layers

Cold weather may make arthritis symptoms worse. To beat the chill, dress in lightweight layers -- they trap body heat without weighing you down. Start with clothing made from a wicking fabric, such as silk or a nylon blend, and top it with a warm layer, such as fleece or a sweater. Headed outside? Add a weatherproof jacket, scarf, hat, and gloves.

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woman sleeping
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Make Sleep a Priority

Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep is even more important during a flare. Not scoring enough shut-eye can trigger inflammation and the release of stress hormones, and it can make dealing with pain harder. While your aching joints may make it tough to nod off, having good habits can help. For a better night’s rest, stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before bedtime. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.

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healthy salad
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Eat a Healthy Diet

Filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans is good for arthritic joints. Also add some healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil, which can ease inflammation. Eating this way can help you stay at a healthy weight, and that’s important because extra pounds put pressure on painful joints. Also load up on fish that have omega-3 fats, which have been shown to help ease joint pain.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/06/2019 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 06, 2019

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) phive2015 / Getty Images

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3) Philippe Garo / Science Source

4) WebMD

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7) Dr P. Marazzi / Science Source

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12) WebMD

13) WebMD

14) wikiHow

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16) MarianVejcik / Thinkstock

 

SOURCES:

American Journal of Physical Medicine: “Efficacy of Compression Gloves in Rheumatoid Arthritis.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Beat the Chill,” “Does Guided Imagery Work?” “Electric Nerve Stimulation for Arthritis Pain,” “Foods That Can Help RA Symptoms,” “Prevent Ankle Pain,” “Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sleep,” “Stress and Worry Affect RA,” “Supplement Guide: Capsaicin,” "Warming Techniques to Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain," “Using Heat and Cold for Pain Relief,” “Warm Water Works Wonders on Pain.”

Arthritis & Rheumatology: “Effects of High-Dose Fish Oil on Rheumatoid Arthritis After Stopping Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Guided Imagery.”

Clinical Therapy: “Treatment of Arthritis with Topical Capsaicin: A Double-Blind Trial.”

Canadian Medical Association Journal: “Graduated Compression Stockings.”

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Splints, Orthoses in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis,” “Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Hand.”

Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects.

Harvard Health Publishing: “Heat Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis.”

Johns Hopkins Health Review: “10 At-Home Arthritis Remedies.”

Mayo Clinic: “Arthritis Pain: Treatments Absorbed Through Your Skin.”

Mount Sinai: “What Can I Do to Decrease Hand Arthritis Symptoms?”

Pain Management Nursing: “Guided Imagery for Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Diseases: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.”

The American Journal of Occupational Therapy: “Use of Resting Splints By Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis.”

The Arthritis Society: “Hand Splints.”

The Open Rheumatology Journal: “Pain Treatment in Arthritis-Related Pain: Beyond NSAIDs.”

University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine: “Stress and Arthritis.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 06, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.