There’s no one best way to manage arthritis pain or achieve pain relief. Part of the frustration for people in pain, doctors acknowledge, is that no single technique is guaranteed to produce complete and consistent pain relief. Often you need a combination of methods. And you may need to change your mix of techniques over time – adding this, dropping that – as your condition changes. 

Some people first try nonprescription medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) and get pain relief, and some will eventually turn to their doctors for stronger prescription medications. After time, people may resort to surgical repair or replacement of a persistently painful joint or removal of pain-causing tissues.

Meanwhile, between medications and surgery, think of arthritis pain management as a continuing journey, with options at each stop along the way that progress from least risky and least invasive on up. Consider this your travel guide. Read on to learn about the options at each stop and you can plan your itinerary and decide the order in which you try each option.

Step 1: Learn about your arthritis pain. Patient education is potentially the most critical therapy in arthritis pain management, according to the American Pain Society. Learning all you can about pain treatments can help break down roadblocks to pain relief. Preconceived notions and misconceptions held by health care workers, employers, patients or their family members can be big roadblocks. 

Some examples? A healthcare worker who doesn’t take pain seriously, a relative who downplays pain and isn’t supportive, a patient who fears becoming addicted to pain medication or believes assistive devices, such as canes, indicate weakness. The health care system itself can put up barriers, too, such as making access to pain treatment difficult, although studies have shown pain is undertreated.

Step 2: Rehabilitate your body. 

•    Regaining posture. Proper posture is no slouch in preventing arthritis pain. Years of compensating for a sore knee can result in pain in a hip or ankle. Jutting the abdomen forward can cause lower back pain, as can slouching in a desk chair. Physical therapists can observe how you sit, stand and walk and teach you how to adjust your posture so you can move with less pain, which may allow you to do more health-improving exercise.

•    Exercising. Getting regular exercise strengthens joint-supporting structures and improves flexibility. A physical therapist can suggest appropriate movements that provide a full range of motion. Physical activity also gets your heart pumping blood faster through your body, warming tissues and bringing them oxygen and nutrients needed for repair.  Losing just 10 pounds of body weight takes 30 to 60 pounds of pressure off the knee.

•    Finding solutions. Sore joints don’t just keep you from getting much-needed exercise; they also make necessary activities problematic: bathing, dressing, writing, driving and performing one’s job, for instance.