Hugh Duckworth MD

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) in 1984 from University of Tennessee School of Medicine

Oct 7, 2018 4 min read

RA Pain: What is the Best Pain Relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that can cause severe and debilitating symptoms for patients of many ages. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available today to help control the disease and reduce inflammation, which is the primary cause of pain.

pain management

One of the most important aspects of treatment is rheumatoid arthritis pain management. For patients who suffer from chronic pain or frequent flare-ups, knowing how to manage pain on an ongoing basis and as needed is an important part of improving quality of life.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Management

While the overall goal of rheumatoid arthritis therapy is to prevent disease progression and further joint damage, pain management is a necessary daily practice for patients, in order to maximize their quality of life.  Chronic pain can adversely affect a patient’s ability to work, participate in physical and social activities, and can generally interrupt day-to-day life.

Despite medications and aggressive forms of treatment, many rheumatoid arthritis patients experience ongoing pain and stiffness. The reality is, it may never completely go away. But there are specific things patients can do to manage pain and limit its impact on their lives.

Pain Management Strategies

Pain management practices must be included in a patient’s overall treatment strategy. There are many different rheumatoid arthritis pain management practices for patients to incorporate into their treatment.

Some of the most effective and widely used rheumatoid arthritis pain management practices include:

  • Choosing the right medications
  • Heat and cold packs
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Following the right diet
  • Getting enough exercise
  • Attending pain clinics

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications

Finding the right rheumatoid arthritis medication for your unique case is critical in treating the disease, reducing inflammation, and alleviating pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients are typically placed on an aggressive medical treatment plan that includes conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and immunotherapy drugs called biologic response modifiers.

Between specialized rheumatoid arthritis medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), analgesics and corticosteroids, patients have several medication options available, which all help to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.

Heat and Cold

Alternating between heat and cold packs can help to ease pain from inflammation for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Cold packs help to numb the feelings of pain, and heat relaxes muscles and joints. A hot water bath can also help soothe joint pain. By using heat and cold regularly, it can help to manage painful symptoms as they arise.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical therapy helps you to restore joint function through specific exercise. This can help alleviate pain for many patients. Activities like cooking and bathing can sometimes be difficult to perform and may cause pain. Occupational therapy will help you to learn how to change some of your daily behaviors so they aren’t painful.

Other professional therapy services that can help alleviate pain include massage therapy and acupuncture.


Diet can help play a role in rheumatoid arthritis pain management. It is important to maintain a healthy weight when suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Obesity and its related healthcare issues can significantly impact the management of your RA.

There are also certain foods that have anti-inflammatory properties such as omega-3 fatty acids which are found in fish oils. Consult a medical professional about the option to take fish oil supplements to possibly control your inflammation levels.


A key component of rheumatoid arthritis pain management and treatment is moderate and regular exercise. Staying physically active helps maintain and improve joint function and range of motion.

Exercises like running, cycling, swimming, and walking can all improve your physical health, give you more energy, and elevate your mood. Consult your doctor about the types of exercises that will help your unique case of rheumatoid arthritis.

Pain Clinics

Some patients don’t respond to their treatments and still suffer from chronic pain. In these cases, doctors may recommend looking at other therapeutic options in conjunction with their medical treatments.

Pain clinics offer a variety of rheumatoid arthritis pain management services including physical and occupational therapy, as well as other complementary and alternatives medicines. These may include acupuncture, massage, meditation, mindfulness, and other healing therapies.

Tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Management

Other than the pain itself, rheumatoid arthritis can cause many other problems and disruptions in life. There are some things you can do to stay healthy and reduce your pain. These are in addition to your regular treatments.

Here are some tips to help you with your rheumatoid arthritis pain management and coping with the disease:

Don’t smoke: Smoking can have serious health consequences on rheumatoid arthritis patients. Smoking causes inflammation, which can complicate these disease and cause more pain.

Be conscious of your use of joints: Try reducing the stress on your joints by being conscious of your daily activities. Picking up items and turning door handles can add pressure to your joints causing them to feel sore. Look for ways to adjust your daily habits and limit the aggressive use of your joints.

Talk to your doctor and rheumatologist: If you still feel pain despite treatment, or you notice new pain, be sure to communicate with your physician and your rheumatologist. There may be additional pain relieving options available.

Seek emotional support: Deal with any stress or trauma you may feel by joining a support group of other rheumatoid arthritis patients. Professional counseling may also help improve your mood and help you to remain positive.

Practice deep breathing: Deep breathing and relaxation exercises can help you to feel more relaxed and can help take your mind off feelings of pain. Spend one to minutes breathing deeply to help deal with any stress or emotions that occur with chronic pain.

Stay well rested: Rest is a critical component of remaining healthy, keeping your energy levels up, and improving your immune system function. It also can help to relax muscles and joints, limit your stress levels, and fight fatigue.

If you continue to experience chronic pain, there are several options for you to try. Talk to your rheumatologist about rheumatoid arthritis pain management options that are right for your individual case.

View Sources Last Edited: October 7, 2018

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