Our bodies are endlessly complex, with countless systems regulating a long list of functions that all culminate in what we understand as life itself. Yet as we know, these systems don’t always function perfectly, and when they struggle, we feel it – be it when we’re having a fever, struggling with a headache, or fighting a hangover.
Arthritis is another example of a system-wide issue, yet one that doesn’t pass quite as easily as a cold – it occurs when the body’s joints are excessively inflamed, causing chronic pain and sensitivity, as well as stiffness and weakness.
Inflammation is usually a good thing and is a mechanism by which the body fights back against infection, getting agitated in specific areas and boosting blood flow to one portion of the body in order to get as many white blood cells on the scene as possible. But prolonged or excessive inflammation can lead to discomfort and, much like chronic pain, it becomes an unnecessary evil.
Arthritis is the most common inflammatory disease and comes in many different shapes and forms. The two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both are largely hereditary and occur most often in people over the age of 65, although sometimes, arthritis can be an issue among teens and younger adults as well. While arthritis is partially genetic, it can get worse by several factors, from nutrition, mental stress, and joint health, to body weight.
Not Curable, But Treatable
Arthritis is a condition that has no cure. It cannot be completely eliminated – yet. The more we research and learn about arthritis, however, the better we become at treating it. Treatments available today can effectively reduce arthritis symptoms. Thus, making it no longer debilitating, and patients can continue to live with an average quality of life.
Different circumstances call for different treatments and different adjustments. Pain management doctors will generally recommend a sweeping number of lifestyle changes if they suspect that their patients are not doing as much as they could be doing to reduce pain, including (but not limited to):
- Frequent and moderate exercise.
- Better eating and diet.
- Maintaining a healthier weight to reduce the overall load on the joints.
- Keeping joints warm during the colder months.
- Sleeping on a better, supportive mattress.
- Medication options such as OTCs like paracetamol, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and etc.
- Ointments, particularly those containing camphor, menthol or capsaicin.
- Alternative treatments and therapies such as frequent massages, hot-and-cold therapy, and etc.
- Special immunosuppressants, and depending on the circumstances, there may be more invasive options on the table (including surgery).
However, these are mostly options that professional help will recommend. When treating arthritis without a pain management doctor, your options may be a little more limited.
Managing Arthritis Symptoms Naturally
It’s not recommended to avoid a pain management doctor when you are struggling with arthritis. While you can manage minor pain well enough with a few homemade remedies and tricks, more severe pain needs to be examined by a medical professional.
Nevertheless, here are a few quick and effective ways to reduce pain. Not everything will work for you. Pain management is often subjective, and what works well for one person doesn’t work as well for another.
1. Hot and cold therapy
Through cold packs and heat compress, you can reduce swelling and pain. This is part of basic injury recovery, and the same goes for arthritis, which mimics the body’s reaction to an injury (swelling and inflammation).
2. Ginger and turmeric
While the effects of ginger and turmeric on arthritis have been over-hyped, adding them to your diet may have some effect on your inflammation. An easy way to get your daily dose is to either consume fresh ginger and/or turmeric through teas and cooking, or to take it in powdered form.
3. Regular massages
Don’t just opt for any massage. Seek out a professional massage therapist with experience in working with patients with chronic pain.
4. Herbal supplements
Typically less effective than traditional medication because the regulation around them is very lax. As such, you might not be able to experience the same therapeutic effect from one product to the next, or even from one dose to the next. That being said, there are numerous supplements which may have a positive impact on arthritic conditions, including:
- Fish oil (focus on high DHA content)
5. Mindfulness and/or meditation
As part of a holistic approach to chronic pain in general, seeking to be more mindful and achieve better mental health can help with your perception of pain. Meditation, or mindfulness exercises, can help in that regard. Particularly if you’re generally stressed out and unable to concentrate or focus on anything.
Why Pain Management Is Often Necessary
Lifestyle changes, supplementation, alternative medicine and physical therapy can go a long way towards making arthritis more bearable to live with. However, there are cases where an extra set of steps is needed to make life worth living at all. When the pain becomes debilitating and the inflammation is unmanageable, professional help becomes critical.
Immunosuppressants, analgesics, and corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation, calm down the body’s aggressive immune system, and help combat overwhelming pain signals. While holistic pain management is important, so is seeking treatment for effective measures when the pain is too much.
Don’t forget to ask about mental health treatments as well – especially if you find yourself struggling to cope with the pain and feeling it impacts at home and at work. Therapy can help you navigate through the emotional struggles of arthritis and continue to be there for yourself and others.