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Coping with rheumatoid arthritis pain

As well as treatment for the pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis, lifestyle changes may be recommended.

Self-care for rheumatoid arthritis includes keeping active, eating a healthy diet and trying to avoid infections with steps such as having an annual flu jab.

Get educated about arthritis pain

Understanding your pain will help you deal with it better. There are a number of types of pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Acute pain from inflammation. Anyone with rheumatoid arthritis knows the pain that comes with a flare-up.
  • Pain from joint damage. Joints may become damaged over time by rheumatoid arthritis and may cause pain, even though your arthritis itself is inactive.
  • Exacerbation of pain. After living for a long time with pain and the other struggles of rheumatoid arthritis, you can get stressed and worn out. The real pain you feel is made worse by your emotional state.

Most people with rheumatoid arthritis will experience all these types of pain. The situation can become complicated and overwhelming, requiring a comprehensive approach.

There are educational programmes available to help people who have to live with pain. The benefits they provide can make a big difference. You can:

  • Learn how pain works, why it happens and what it means.
  • Gain coping and life-management skills for when you are in pain.
  • Get trained in cognitive-behavioural therapy or biofeedback. These are methods of reducing the pain you feel by using your mind.

Come up with a pain management plan

When pain strikes, consider it a signal to take positive action, not to give in and suffer. Even if you are not able to eliminate the pain completely, you are doing what you can to help yourself. There are a number of tools at your disposal to manage pain. Experiment until you find what works for you.

  • Pain-relieving medication. Consider taking your pain medication on schedule, rather than waiting until you are in more pain and have to play ’catch-up’. Severe rheumatoid arthritis pain usually requires maximum doses of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), although the risk of side-effects must be considered at higher doses.
  • Meditation and relaxation. Escape from stressful situations and relax your mind. Meditation can help relieve pain and is a skill that can be learned.
  • Distraction. Focusing on pain makes it worse, not better. Do something you enjoy instead - or any activity that keeps you busy and has you thinking about something else.
  • Heat, cold, and massage. These tried-and-tested remedies are easy to do and can provide some quick relief from mild symptoms.

Nurture a healthy attitude

No one should have to live with pain. It doesn't seem fair, and it's not. It is natural to sometimes feel like a victim or to experience any number of other emotions.

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