Powerful, opioid pain relievers are often ideal for short-term pain, such as surgical recovery. But their addictive properties may make them ill-suited for achy joints and other chronic pain management.
On the other end of the scale, despite the implications made in television commercials, over-the-counter analgesic pain relievers are often too weak to manage chronic discomfort, unless they are taken in large numbers.
The underlying issue may be a philosophical one. Instead of relying entirely on medicine to relieve discomfort, pills are only part of the equation.
By doing what you can to reduce pain, you can put your pills in the back of your medicine cabinet, and only take them out to deal with occasional flare-ups.
By that phrase, we do not mean things like trigger finger, because there are trigger finger splints to deal with this issue. Rather, we mean things like a long afternoon out in the yard. As for everyday discomfort, try some of these lifestyle changes.
Water aerobics and swimming are especially good for people with joint pain in the lower extremities, such as knees and ankles, because these exercises get these joints moving with absolutely no impact, which means almost no remedial discomfort.
Swimming is also excellent cardiovascular exercise, and better blood flow to the joints may help ease discomfort as well.
If your joint pain is particularly acute, consider combining swimming and yoga in an aquatic yoga class, because stretching has the same effect on joints.
In addition to the physical benefits outlined above, yoga includes mindfulness and meditation. There is considerable evidence that such mental and emotional purification reduces stress, thus reducing discomfort.
Moreover, people who think about nothing for a few minutes are not thinking about their pain, and it may take a while for those pain messages to build up again.
Although they rely on completely different approaches, yoga and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation have basically the same philosophy.
Both disrupt pain transmissions from nerve endings at the source, but whereas yoga uses mindfulness, TENS uses very mild electrical pulses.
TENS is nothing like shock therapy which, by design, causes pain. Instead, TENS units are small and portable, so many people use them at work.
Furthermore, units with electrodes and patches designed for certain parts of the body are easy to find.
In one prominent university study, a startling 80 percent of arthritis patients reported significantly less pain when they applied capsaicin cream to their joints four times a day. The reason it’s so effective is that this is no normal everyday cream.
The same ingredient present in most hot peppers soaks up substance P, which is a chemical stimulant to nerve endings, so people who use it in cream form simply do not feel as much pain in their joints.
Like many other of these approaches, the pain is still there, but it is only bothersome occasionally as opposed to chronically.
Fish oil is a well-known anti-inflammatory, and recent research suggests that it may be more effective than first believed when it comes to joint pain. To attain these benefits, an omega-3 dietary supplement is probably necessary, unless you really, really like fish.
All these techniques are a bit unconventional, but they are also all evidence-based, so give one or two or more a try and see what happens.