How to Deal with Osteoarthritis Pain – What Works for Me

As I write this post, I am in a lot of pain. My neck hurts. It has been hurting since yesterday, and I can feel the pain traveling down to that hard-to-reach spot on my upper back. Meanwhile, my hands are threatening to become numb and I am still on the first paragraph of this article! What is a person to do? Let’s talk about how to deal with osteoarthritis pain.

Pain Medications & Me

One of the first things many people and most doctors think about whenever there’s a new diagnosis is “What kind of medicine is going to fix this?” I have never been one to take medications; they scare me. Several people in my family have had near-death experiences as a result of taking medications that were prescribed by or administered by doctors, most frequently while they were in the hospital being treated for something that would not be likely to cause death. My mother was afraid of hospitals and was convinced that if she ever ended up in one, they would probably kill her. We are a sensitive bunch.

On the flip side, we are all quite tolerant of pain. We are strong-willed and of the mindset that we will push through a difficult situation, even if it kills us! It might indeed kill us if medication doesn’t do it first. Considering my sensitivity to other things such as sugar or caffeine, I’m cautious about what I put in my mouth because everything I put in there has consequences.

My husband is just the opposite. He has no tolerance for pain and will take anything and everything they give him and if he has a reaction to something, it is usually mild and not nearly as troublesome as the original issue. He has strong faith in medications and takes many on a daily basis, at various times, different amounts, some with or without food. That right there is way too much math for me. No, thank you.

Alternatives to Medication

Exercise is considered the best non-medical treatment for dealing with osteoarthritis pain. I’m really struggling with this because the more I exercise, the more I hurt. If I don’t exercise, I feel good. Prior to my diagnosis, I walked every day and tried to do various other activities for variety but my body rebelled. Pain caused by exercising is what drove me to see a doctor in the first place.

It seemed that no matter what exercise I did, something hurt. Something always hurts. The thing is, it’s not always the same something. The pain travels throughout my body like as an invisible force. It’ll spend some time in my neck and as soon as I get that under control, it may be in my legs. Sometimes it’s throbbing, other times aching, occasionally shooting, sharp pain.

Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

What is Exercise?

I’m learning to redefine exercise. A physical therapist taught me some stretches that helped my neck and shoulder pain tremendously. I wouldn’t consider that exercise but I think it is those gentle activities that benefit more than somewhat aggressive ones.

My work as a cleaning lady requires me to bend and stretch throughout the day, so I’m counting that as exercise too. Working in the yard also seems to help more than harm. Somehow, using my whole body all at once for several hours seems more helpful than intentionally working one or two muscle groups at a time for a few intense minutes.

Lose Weight

You’ll run into this advice regularly, too. Less weight will ease the stress on your joints. Sadly, this has not been my experience either but aside from my hip, most of my pain is not in my joints. Before I found out that I have osteoarthritis, I had already dropped enough weight to be classified as “normal” yet my pain was worsening.

For me, losing weight has had many other benefits, though, so it’s definitely worth doing. I have more energy, clearer thinking, and just generally feel good. For most people, I really think it does help relieve the joint pain as well.

Heat therapy

A hot shower is the best! The heat relaxes me and eases the pain more than anything else I have tried. Sometimes I wet a towel and heat it in the microwave for a few minutes, place it in a plastic bag and apply it to a painful area. That helps, too.

Heating pads can be very helpful but make sure that you know what you need before you shop. My physical therapist used heat on my shoulder by having me lie on my back with the heat under my upper back and neck. She followed up with massage and the result was heavenly!

The electric heating pad that I purchased on impulse for myself to use at home is worthless to me. The cords and wires get in the way, it doesn’t get hot enough and it is designed to go on top of the painful area, not under it. It’s not flexible enough to wrap around my neck and it’s too wide to rest on my shoulder.

After I realized that not all heating pads are created equal, I went to Amazon and found an amazing review of several types of heating pads. I cannot find the article again but maybe you will have better luck. Click here to go to Amazon.

Click here for a display of the best-selling heating pads on Amazon.

Click here for some infrared heat therapy options that strap on to specific problem areas and a full-body pad.

Tylenol

Tylenol is the safest pain reliever out there and sometimes it works. I normally only take one and only if I’m hurting so much that I cannot sleep. Aside from being afraid that most medications may do more harm than good, I am also concerned that if I cannot feel the pain I may hurt myself worse. If I take Tylenol because my legs ache and then fall into a deep sleep, I am likely to wake up with my neck all jammed up and hurting.

Muscle Rub

I don’t do this unless I’m really miserable and have tried everything else, mostly because it stinks. Not that anyone has ever mentioned it but I feel like that’s the first thing anyone will notice if they get within ten feet of me. Muscle rubs tend to be highly scented. Effective, but stinky.

Rest

It’s okay to take it easy sometimes. I find this very challenging because there’s always something that needs to be done and I feel guilty doing nothing. There are times when just sitting and holding a book hurts so I am learning how to lie on my back and rest when I need to. If I pace myself throughout the day I don’t usually need to rest.

Love Yourself

Sometimes you just need to do something that makes your heart happy. I get a lot of mileage out of a cup of my favorite coffee and a bar of dark chocolate. It makes me happy to wander around in nature or visit one of my gardening friends to see what’s coming up in her garden. Once in a while, I will lose myself in a novel. If I had a Jacuzzi, I would spend time in it. What do you love? When you spend time doing something you love, it just makes life better and the pain is much easier to ignore.

There are Many Options

This article has focused on my personal situation and what works for me but there are many other effective remedies that may guide you in how to deal with osteoarthritis pain.

You can read about them here.

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    1. πŸ™‚ I know you! It really can be a good life! A wise woman once told me, “You cannot always change your circumstances but you can change your attitude about them.” I think of those words often. They are so true!

  1. Wow, this is the best post that I read ever. I had a lot of trouble a few years ago when I had chronic pain. The Doctors have given me drugs, so I looked like a zombie and did not help anything. When I changed my way of life, and I was able to swim at least an hour a day I resolved problems of my life without drugs.
    Thank you for sharing with us how can we deal with Osteoarthritis Pain.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad to hear that you were able to resolve your problems without drugs. I have heard so many good things about swimming but have not tried it.

  2. I’ve always advocated for alternatives to the mainstream prescription meds, which I believe many doctors can’t wait to put us on. Exercise is definitely key, as many fail to realize that it strengthens more than muscles; it strengthens joints and bones as well.

    I also can’t stress rest enough, too, especially if one with osteoarthritis embarks on a fitness lifestyle. I also like what you said about pacing yourself throughout the day; this is another great option and I love exercising for an hour before resting most of the day (on weekends) before exercising more later that evening.

    1. Thank you for stopping by to read my article and share your thoughts. I’m glad to know that others try to avoid medications too. That’s a good point you make about exercise strengthening more than just muscles. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh my gosh, I thought that I was reading an article about myself! My neck is hurting since yesterday. I woke up, stretched, then ‘doink,’ something snapped, and now I’m in pain.

    I have osteoarthritis as well. It affects my back. I’m with you on exercise. It’s a necessary evil, it seems. The doctor tells me to do it since being sedentary will kill me, while a backache won’t. So, I walk or do an elliptical on lousy weather days. Also, do a lot of stretches that help a bit.

    A cup of coffee and dark chocolate? YES PLEASE! I love coffee and chocolate.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experiences here. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one. I look forward to future ‘musings’. πŸ™‚

    1. Hi, Jerimy. I’m sorry to hear that your neck is hurting; maybe a nice, hot towel? Mine is actually good today since I wrote this article over a period of a couple of days. πŸ™‚ I use a treadmill which I talk about HERE but the elliptical was one of the first things that caused unusual pain. I just couldn’t get used to it and finally found it a new home. I appreciate you sharing your doctor’s advice “being sedentary will kill me, while a backache won’t”. I’ll have to keep reminding myself of that.

  4. Thanks, Theresa,
    I appreciate that you give us a pretty complete overview of all the options for dealing with Osteoarthritis pain but you also share what your experience has been. I especially like how you shared your experience of losing weight and your reluctance for using muscle rubs. I’ll begin with loving myself more!

    1. Yes, love yourself more! That was actually a hard lesson for me on a mental level because I used to beat myself up with negative thinking. One day I realized that I would never say mean and hateful things like that to another person, why should I treat myself that way? Loving myself with chocolate is a whole different story.

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