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Osteo-arthritis pain: Do's and Don'ts

Arthritis sufferer

Arthritis is a leading cause of pain and disability worldwide. It’s something that I discuss at least once every day with my patients. So I thought I’d talk about some of the do's and don'ts to help you figure it out.


Whatever your osteo-arthritis, it will be easier to stay ahead of your pain if you:

  • Learn all you can about your arthritis

  • Enlist your doctor, friends and family in managing your pain and keep the pain under control

  • Tell your doctor if your pain changes

Everyday routines

Pay attention to your joints, whether sitting, standing or engaging in activity.

  • Keep your joints moving. Do daily, gentle stretches that move your joints through their full range of motion.

  • Use good posture. Our osteopaths physios and our Alexander technique teacher at the clinic can show you how to sit, stand and move correctly.

  • Know your limits. Balance activity and rest, and don't overdo.

In addition, lifestyle changes are important for easing pain.

  • Manage weight. Being overweight can increase complications of arthritis and contribute to arthritis pain. Making incremental, permanent lifestyle changes resulting in gradual weight loss is often the most effective method of weight management.

  • Quit smoking. Smoking causes stress on connective tissues, which can increase arthritis pain.


When you have arthritis, movement can decrease your pain and stiffness, improve your range of motion, strengthen your muscles, and increase your endurance.

What to do

Stay Active - Choose the right kinds of activities — those that build the muscles around your joints but don't damage the joints themselves. Our practitioners can help you develop an exercise program that's right for you. Focus on stretching, range-of-motion exercises and gradual progressive strength training. Include low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling or water exercises, to improve your mood and help control your weight.

What to avoid

Avoid activities that involve high impact and repetitive motion, such as:

  • Running

  • Jumping

  • Tennis

  • High-impact aerobics

  • Repeating the same movement, such as a tennis serve, again and again


Many types of medications are available for arthritis pain relief. Most are relatively safe, but no medication is completely free of side effects. Talk with your doctor to formulate a medication plan for your specific pain symptoms.

What to do

Over-the-counter pain medication such as paracetamol and, if it’s not contra-indicated for you, non -steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen, can help in the short term to relieve occasional pain triggered by activity your muscles and joints aren't used to — such as gardening after a winter indoors.

Cream containing capsaicin may be applied to skin over a painful joint to relieve pain. Use alone or with oral medication.

Consult your doctor if over-the-counter medications don't relieve your pain.

What to avoid

  • Overtreatment. Talk with your doctor if you find yourself using over-the-counter pain relievers regularly.

  • Undertreatment. Don't try to ignore severe and prolonged arthritis pain. You might have joint inflammation or damage requiring daily medication.

  • Focusing only on pain. Depression is more common in people with arthritis. Doctors have found that treating depression with antidepressants and other therapies reduces not only depression symptoms but also arthritis pain.

What supplements should you take?

This is a difficult area as there are often mixed opinions and limited research.

Vitamin D helps the body maintain calcium and phosphate levels to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. It may also have anti-inflammatory effects and a role in maintaining the health of the immune system.

Glucosamine and chondroitin seem to have mixed results and the evidence is also mixed.

Curcumin is the active compound in the yellow-hued spice, turmeric, which is a staple of Indian curries. In the body, it acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. One downside to curcumin is that it’s hard for the body to absorb. If taking this plese consult with your GP first if you are taking other NSAIDS.

Physical pain affecting your emotions

It's no surprise that arthritis pain has a negative effect on your mood. If everyday activities make you hurt, you're bound to feel discouraged. But when these normal feelings escalate to create a constant feeling of fear, hopeless thoughts, your pain can actually get worse and harder to manage.

What to do

Therapies that interrupt destructive mind-body interactions include:

  • Keeping a good network of friends is helpful, don’t cut yourself off, keep talking to them.

  • Relaxation therapy. Meditating, doing yoga, deep breathing, listening to music, being in nature, writing in a journal — do whatever helps you relax. There's no downside to relaxation, and it can help ease pain.

  • Acupuncture. Some people get pain relief through acupuncture treatments, when a trained acupuncturist inserts hair-thin needles at specific points on your body. We at the clinic have found this particularly helpful for osteo-arthritis in a range of different joints.

  • Heat and cold. Use of heat, such as applying heating pads to aching joints, taking hot baths or showers, or immersing painful joints in warm paraffin wax, can help relieve pain temporarily. Be careful not to burn yourself. Use heating pads for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

  • Use of cold, such as applying ice packs to sore muscles, can relieve pain and inflammation after strenuous exercise.

  • Manual therapy – our osteopaths and physios can help to improve the muscles around the joint and joint function by combination of manual therapy and specifically tailored exercise programmes for you to carry out at home.

  • Laser treatment – we’ve also found the our K laser – a class IV therapeutic laser to be really effective in helping managing the pain with certain types of osteo-arthritis.

What to avoid

  • Smoking. If you're addicted to tobacco, you might use it as an emotional coping tool. But it's counterproductive: Toxins in smoke cause stress on connective tissue, leading to more joint problems.

  • A negative attitude. Negative thoughts are self-perpetuating. As long as you dwell on them, they escalate, which can increase your pain and risk of disability. Instead, distract yourself with activities you enjoy, spend time with people who support you and consider talking to a therapist.


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