Arthritis can have a big impact on your loved one’s body, ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. That’s the part we see. What we don’t always realize is that this constant type of pain can also significantly affect a person’s mind and spirit.
But here is the good news: If you focus on helping your loved one manage their physical pain, the rest will align. Once chronic pain is under control, you’ll notice positive outcomes in every aspect of their well-being.
There are a number of ways to help your loved one manage the daily pain of arthritis. Knowing the many options can go a long way in helping you support their care, so they can enjoy their best life.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive treatment for many types of pain including arthritis. A TENS device applies electrical currents of varying intensity through electrodes placed on your loved one’s skin in the area of their pain, stimulating the nervous system and shutting out the pain. TENS cannot be used if your loved one has a pacemaker, an infection or open wounds.
Peripheral Nerve Stimulation
Peripheral nerve stimulation is similar to TENS. Your doctor places an electrode just below the skin’s surface by the painful peripheral nerve. The idea is to stimulate the large fibers that signal your loved one’s spinal column before the thin fibers that signal pain.
Peripheral nerve stimulation works best for those with osteoarthritis of the spinal column, and can
offer effective, long-lasting pain relief.
If your loved one has arthritis of the feet, ankles, knees or even hips, wearing the proper shoes can reduce their foot pain and positively impact their function and mobility. Help your loved one choose:
- Flats with cushioning, shock absorption and proper arch support
- Flexible walking shoes that provide less stress to your knees
- Footwear with rubber soles, wedge heels and a roomy toe area
- Low cut boots with rubber-soled, wedge heels
- Neutral athletic shoes that allow you to insert orthotic insoles
- Sandals with several cross and ankle straps to provide more support
- Stability athletic shoes to help with hip, knee, foot or ankle arthritis
- Walking boots that offer sturdiness and flexibility
Hot and Cold Therapy
Hot and cold therapies are simple, cheap and effective. They are always easy to administer in the comfort of your loved one’s home.
Since there are many ways to administer hot and cold therapies, you may need to experiment with several techniques to see which ones help your loved one best control their pain. When you find a system that works, encourage them to stick with it.
Treatments Using Heat
Heating pads. Place a heating pad over the affected joint for no longer than 20 minutes per session, using a cloth cover on the heating pad to protect your loved one’s skin from burns. You can also use charcoal air-activated heat packs when you’re on the go.
Do not use heating pads if your loved one has neuropathy as they may not be able to feel when the heating pad gets too hot.
Moist heat packs are available over-the-counter, or you can make one by placing a wet rag in a plastic zip lock bag. Heat the pack in the microwave and place a towel between hot pack and your skin. Leave moist heat packs on your loved one’s affected joint for 15 to 20 minutes.
Warm showers, baths or whirlpool therapy can ease morning stiffness.
Warm paraffin wax baths, which are sold over-the-counter, can ease the pain in your loved one’s aching hand or foot joints.
Treatments Using Cold
Cold therapy gel packs can be purchased over-the-counter. They can also be made at home by adding two cups of water to one cup of rubbing alcohol in a zip lock bag, and then placing the bag in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. These gel packs are leak free, maintain cold longer and are easily wrapped around a joint.
A bag of frozen vegetables from your freezer can offer an easy tried-and-true option.
When using any cold therapy, you should wrap a cold pack in cloth before applying it to your loved one’s skin to avoid frostbite. Ice packs should remain on the skin for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
The body’s adrenal glands naturally produce a hormone called cortisol, which reduces inflammation. Cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone are man-made versions of cortisol. These drugs — which can be injected directly into affected joints and given once every three to four months — can help your loved one effectively manage arthritis aches and pains.
Hyaluronic Acid Injections
Hyaluronic acid is a thick, slippery fluid that’s a part of your natural cartilage. Injections of hyaluronic acid may help your loved one’s damaged cartilage. These injections are typically given weekly for three to five weeks.
Trigger Point Injections
This type of pain management uses small amounts of anesthetic (a substance that blocks pain) injected directly into painful muscle trigger points. Your loved one’s doctor can also add a steroid into the injection to further reduce symptoms of pain. These injections can relieve pain for several weeks to months.
Mind Over Pain
Awareness and thoughtful reflection can be used to empower your loved one to gain control over pain. By helping them change their perception of pain, you can help them better cope with arthritis and improve their overall health and mental well-being.
Before your loved one tries this technique, help set them up for success. Find a quiet spot where there will be no interruptions and arrange a sitting area that’s comfortable and supportive.
When you’re ready, encourage your loved one to:
- Close their eyes for the entire time
- Focus on their own breathing until they feel very calm and grounded in the space
- Use visual imagery to release their pain and imagine a very positive outlook
While quiet reflection can be a very effective tool, it should be used in conjunction with other treatments and should not take the place of medications, a healthy diet or physical activity.
Your loved one’s doctor may recommend a nerve block for pain management. Nerve blocks — which contain a mixture of a local anesthetic (substance that blocks pain) and a corticosteroid — are injected directly into the affected nerve. Commonly used for back pain that travels down into arms or legs, or for long-lasting pain, nerve blocks can provide immediate relief.
Used most often for people with osteoarthritis or spinal arthritis, pain pumps can provide effective and immediate pain relief. These small implanted devices deliver time-released medication (such as morphine) into the space around your spinal cord.
Physical therapy uses specific exercises to improve your loved one’s posture, range of motion and function. It also helps decrease pain and improves quality of life by elevating mood and energy levels. Low impact sports may be suggested by your loved one’s physical therapist since they are highly beneficial for people with all types of arthritis.
Be a source of constant encouragement for your loved one by:
- Driving them to and from appointments and activities
- Helping them with exercises at home
- Participating in low impact sports together (such as swimming, biking and water aerobics)
- Scheduling and managing appointments
Topical medications come in the form of gels, creams and patches and are applied directly on the skin. Some topical treatments supply sodium channel blockers, such as lidocaine or prilocaine, to ease pain associated with arthritis. These sodium channel blockers work best for patients with diabetic neuropathy or neuropathic pain.
Others (NSAIDs) work directly on the joint fluid, relieving pain and reducing inflammation.
If you believe topical solutions may help your loved one, talk with a doctor to determine which may work best. Regardless of which one is recommended, these medicines can help treat pain.
In some cases, topical medicines can cause mild skin reactions such as rash or itching. These reactions usually resolve on their own, and most people feel the benefits of using the medications far outweigh these minor symptoms. However, if these skin conditions seem more severe or don’t resolve on their own, talk with your loved one’s doctor right away.
Break the Pain Cycle
Helping your loved one control arthritis pain will help improve their quality of life and allow them to get back to enjoying the things they love most. Commit to being their partner in care and encourage them to try all options recommended by their doctor to find optimal relief.
If you or a loved one is struggling with arthritis pain, lean on us for help. Learn more about our Orthopedic Institute and how our experts can help.