Living with pain
Living with pain can be the hardest part of having arthritis. It’s easy to start avoiding activities because they’re painful or because you think they may be damaging your joints. You may start losing confidence and feel that life is no longer enjoyable.
Pain is a normal, complex human experience. Short term acute pain is very useful – it’s a signal that you need to protect whatever part of your body is hurting. Chronic pain that lasts longer than three months is a different story. It doesn’t always signal continuing harm or damage; it may just mean that the nerve pathways have become sensitised and your brain is overprotecting you.
The degree of pain does not necessarily relate to the severity of injury or joint damage. Pain doesn’t show up on X-rays or scans! And chronic pain may not respond to standard medical treatment.
We also know that pain, stress, fatigue or depression often make pain worse and create what can feel like a never-ending cycle of pain.
The good news is that this cycle can be broken. The first step is acceptance, which doesn’t mean giving up. It’s about recognising that you can take control and learn how you can better manage pain yourself. Everybody is different, so be prepared to try various techniques until you find what works best for you.
Pain may limit some of the things you do but it doesn’t have to control your life.
Tips for managing pain
- Gentle exercise and stretching
- Maintain a healthy weight and eat healthy foods
- Protect joints by using devices such as walking sticks and supportive, cushioned footwear
- Mind-based approaches (deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, distraction)
- Relieve stress: pace yourself, prioritise, plan, watch your posture
- Use medications, topical creams and gels
- Apply heat or cold – whichever brings relief
- Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, aromatherapy.
The four Ps
These strategies will help you manage your energy levels and your pain:
Pacing – Do you do too much on ‘good’ days and spend ‘bad’ days recovering? Pacing is about taking a ‘little and often’ approach, not tackling activities all at once. Know your limits (or set a timer), change jobs frequently and take regular breaks.
Planning – work out what you need to do each day or week but remember to be flexible. Plan rest times, break tasks into smaller chunks and decide what you can delegate to others.
Priorities – set realistic goals and don’t be too hard on yourself. Decide what you have to do today, what you could do today and what you would like to do today but is not essential. Learn to say no, and ask for help when you need it.
Posture – poor posture increases fatigue. Good posture protects your joints and reduces tension on muscles. Try to be aware of how your body and don’t hold any one position for too long. Keep moving!