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5 things to know about pain management

Pain is one of the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis and one of the most debilitating. It’s hard to enjoy life and be active when you’re in pain, which is why it is so crucial to find ways to manage it. 

Where does the pain come from? 

In osteoarthritis, pain and limited mobility occur when cartilage that cushions the space between bones wears away with age and overuse. This leaves the bones to rub painfully against each other. 

The severity and quality of pain can vary dramatically from person to person. For example, some people may feel a shooting pain, or dull pain, while others may feel a radiating pain. 

What can you do about it? 

If you have joint pain or stiffness that won’t go away, the first step is to talk to your healthcare provider. 

Treatments for osteoarthritis pain often include pain medications—mostly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also known as NSAIDs (like Advil), and acetaminophen (like Tylenol). Surgery can also sometimes be an option, like a knee replacement. You and your healthcare provider can discuss different treatment options that make sense for you.

However, lifestyle changes like being more active, losing weight, and focusing on nutrition, can also help pain relief and osteoarthritis, especially in the long-term. 

There are plenty of non-pharmacological (without pain medications), research-backed ways to relieve and manage joint pain. You can try all of these at home. 

1. Physical activity

Whether it’s swimming, walking, seated yoga, gardening, physical activity can: 

  • Reduce pain
  • Improve range of motion
  • Strengthen the muscles that support the joints
  • Help with weight loss, which can reduce the strain on your joints

The most important thing is to find activities that you enjoy doing and get moving! We recommend this Strengthen & Condition class from Bold to get started. 

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness means the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment. Research shows that regular mindfulness practice reduces a person's pain experience. For a good place to start, check out these simple step-by-step mindfulness exercises for managing chronic pain. We also recommend this Mind and Body check in video with our instructor Michael. 

3. Heat and cold

Applying heat, cold, or alternating heat and cold can be very effective for relieving pain and inflammation. Try applying heat—either by warm towels, hot packs, or a shower—2 to 3 times a day for about 20 to 30 minutes. Heat treatment should be warm, not too hot. For cold, try applying a cold pack to your joints for 10 to 20 minutes as needed. Do not put a cold pack directly on your skin, instead use a thin towel or pillowcase. 

4. Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is an anxiety-reduction and pain management technique that involves alternating tension and relaxation in all of the body's major muscle groups. Try following this step-by-step progressive muscle relaxation guide—it only takes 15 minutes!

5. Self-talk 

Your thoughts, the way you talk to yourself, can deeply influence your outlook on pain and experience of it. Research shows that you can learn to reframe your thoughts and think in ways that ease or lessen the painful experience. Practicing positive self-talk is a helpful tool for reminding yourself that you can control your pain. Check out this workbook for reframing your negative thoughts.

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