Arthritis Pain

Understanding Your Pain

Dealing with pain can be the hardest part of having arthritis or a related condition, but you can learn to manage it and its impact on your life. The first step is knowing which type of arthritis or condition you have, because that will help determine your treatment. Before learning different management techniques, however, it's important to understand some concepts about pain.

Not All Pain is Alike

Just as there are different types of arthritis, there are also different types of pain. Even your own pain may vary from day to day. Each person needs a pain management plan. What works for one person may not work for someone else. You may need to try several different treatments before you find the one that works for you.

The Purpose of Pain

Pain is your body's alarm system that tells you something is wrong. When your body is injured, nerves in the affected area release chemical signals. Other nerves send these signals to your brain, where they are recognized as pain. Pain often tells you that you need to act. For example, if you touch a hot stove, pain signals from your brain make you pull your hand away. This type of pain helps protect you. Long-lasting pain, like the kind that accompanies arthritis or fibromyalgia, is different. While it tells you that something is wrong, it often isn't as easy to relieve. Managing this type of pain is essential to enhance your quality of life and sense of well-being.

Causes of Pain

Arthritis pain is caused by several factors, such as:

  • Inflammation, the process that causes the redness and swelling in your joints;
  • Damage to joint tissues, which results from the disease process or from stress, injury or pressure on the joints;
  • Fatigue that results from the disease process, which can make your pain seem worse and harder to handle;
  • Depression or stress, which results from limited movement or no longer doing activities you enjoy. You can get caught in a cycle of pain, limited/lost abilities, stress and depression that makes managing pain and arthritis seem more difficult.

Different Reactions to Pain

People react differently to pain for several reasons. Physical factors include the sensitivity of your nervous system and the severity of your arthritis. Emotional and social factors include your fears and anxieties about pain, previous experiences with pain, energy level, attitude about your condition and the way people around you react to pain. Many people with arthritis have found that by learning and practicing pain management skills, they can reduce their pain.

Pain Factors

What can make your pain feel worse?
  • Increased disease activity
  • Stress
  • Overdoing physical activity
  • Focusing on pain
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
What can block pain signals?
  • Positive attitude and pleasant thoughts
  • Appropriate exercise
  • Relaxation
  • Medications
  • Massage
  • Distraction
  • Topical pain relievers
  • Humor
  • Heat and cold treatments

How the Body Controls Pain

Pain signals travel through a system of nerves in your brain and spinal cord. At times, your body tries to stop these signals by creating chemicals that help block pain signals. These chemicals, called endorphins, are morphine-like painkilling substances that decrease the pain sensation. Different factors cause the body to produce endorphins. One example is your own thoughts and emotions. For example, a father who is driving his children is hurt in a car accident. He is so worried about his children that he doesn't feel the pain of his own broken arm. The concern for his children has caused the natural release of endorphins, which block the pain signal and prevent him from noticing the pain. The body also produces endorphins in response to external factors, such as medicine. Codeine is one example of a powerful pain-blocking medication. Other external pain control methods, such as heat and cold treatments, can stimulate the body to either release endorphins or block pain signals in other ways.

Managing Your Pain

Thinking of pain as a signal to take positive action rather than an ordeal you have to endure can help you learn to manage your pain. You may want to consider taking some positive actions, such as the ones listed below, to counter pain.


Pain gets in the way, interfering with daily activities, disrupting sleep and generally reducing the quality of life for many people. That's why medications to ease pain analgesics are among the most-used drugs for many forms of arthritis. Unlike nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which target both pain and inflammation, analgesics, are designed purely for pain relief. For that reason, they may be safe for people who are unable to take NSAIDs due to allergies or stomach problems, for example. They're also an appropriate, and possibly safer, choice for people whose arthritis causes pain but not inflammation.

Taking Control

Your mind plays an important role in how you feel pain and respond to illness. You may feel helpless and depressed. With these feelings com decreased activity, low self-esteem and increased pain. Use the tips below to build a sense of person control by adjusting your thoughts and actions. Keep a positive attitude. Arthritis may limit some of the things you can do, but it doesn't have to control your life. One way to reduce your pain is to build your life around wellness, not pain or sickness. This means:

  • Thinking positive thoughts
  • Having a sense of humor
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people
  • Enjoying activities with family and friends.

artharrest-logo It also means following your treatment plan, taking your medication properly and practicing relaxation. Don't focus on pain. How often do you think about your pain? The amount of time you spend thinking about pain has a lot to do with how much discomfort you feel. People who dwell on their pain usually say their pain is worse than those who don't dwell on it. One way to take your mind off pain is to focus on something else. Everyone has the ability to distract themselves from pain. The more you focus on something outside your body, such as a hobby or other activity, the less you will be aware of physical discomfort. If you can't avoid thinking about the pain, try to think of it differently. Think of pain as your body's message to do something different. For example, if your pain is worse after sitting for a period of time, your body may be telling you to get up and move around.

Practice positive self-talk. What we say to ourselves often determines what we do and how we look at life. For example, you may come home from work and think, "I don't want to exercise today. It's cloudy outside, there's no one to walk with, and besides, I've already exercised twice this week." Or perhaps you approach the situation from a different perspective and think, " I don't feel like exercising today, but I know I'll feel better afterward and have an easier time falling asleep."

Both of these are examples that illustrate the self-talk approach, and each can affect the way you feel pain. Negative messages can lead to increased pain, while positive messages can help distract you from pain. Changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk can be a challenge. to make the change, follow these three steps:

  1. Make a list of your negative self-talk statements.
  2. Change each negative statement to a positive one. For example, "I'm tired and don't feel like attending my support group tonight, but if I don't go I might miss out on some good tips like the ones I learned last month. I can always leave the meeting a little early."
  3. Practice positive self-talk. At first it may seem awkward, but you'll soon discover what a difference it can make.

Change you pain habits. It's easy to slip into the habit of taking more medicine or relying on unhealthy practices, such as drinking alcohol, to escape pain. If you answer "yes" to any of the questions below, you should consider some new ways to handle your pain.

  • Do you finish a bottle of pain medicine faster than you used to?
  • Do you spend a lot of time in bed, aside from your regular sleep time?
  • Do you drink alcohol to ease your pain?
  • Do you talk about pain or arthritis much of the time?

Changing your habits for dealing with pain will help you feel better. One way to make a change is to do something positive in place of the old habit. Reinforce your behavior change by rewarding yourself each time you do something positive - perhaps by spending some extra time in a soothing whirlpool or taking an additional 10 minutes to read the morning newspaper. Discuss these habits with your doctor, nurse or other health professional that specializes in pain management. Ask about additional ways to manage pain.