How is joint pain treated?

Although there may not be a cure for the pain, it can be managed to bring the patient relief. Sometimes the pain may go away by taking over-the-counter medication, or by performing simple daily exercises. Other times, the pain may be signaling problems that can only be corrected with prescription medication or surgery.

  • Simple at-home treatments, such as applying a heating pad or ice on the affected area, may be recommended for short periods, several times a day. Soaking in a warm bathtub may also offer relief.
  • Exercise can help get back strength and function. Walking, swimming, or other low-impact aerobic exercise is best. Those who participate in strenuous workouts or sports activities may need to scale it back or begin a low-impact workout routine. Gentle stretching exercises will also help. Check with the doctor before beginning or continuing any exercise program.
  • Weight loss may also be suggested, if needed, to lessen strain on joints.
  • Acetaminophen, (Tylenol®) or anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), may help ease the pain. Both of these medicines are available over the counter, but stronger doses may need a doctor’s prescription. If you have a history of stomach ulcers, kidney disease, or liver disease, check with your physician to see if this is a good option for you.
  • Topical treatments, such as ointments or gels that can be rubbed into the skin over the affected joint area, may also help ease pain. Some of these may be found over the counter, or the doctor may write a prescription.
  • Dietary supplements, like glucosamine, may help relieve pain. Ask the doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements.

If those medications or treatments do not ease the pain, the doctor may prescribe:

  • Supportive aids, such as a brace, cane, or orthotic device in the shoe, can help support the joint to allow ease of movement. The doctor, physical or occupational therapist, or social worker will be able to assist with the right option(s) available.
  • Physical or Occupational Therapy, along with a balanced fitness program, may gradually help ease pain and improve flexibility.
  • Antidepressants may be prescribed to help improve sleep for a patient suffering from joint pain.
  • Steroids, often given by injection into the joint, provide short-term relief of pain and swelling.
  • Painkilling drugs that help ease pain.

Please note that medicine, even those available over the counter, affects people differently. What helps one person may not work for another. Be sure to follow the doctor’s directions carefully when taking any medicine, and tell him or her if you have any side effects.

What can be done to relieve joint pain?

Surgery may be an option if the joint pain is long lasting and does not lessen with drugs or physical therapy and exercise. Please be sure to discuss this with the doctor to make sure that an operation makes sense.

There are many different surgical options available, including:

Arthroscopy: A procedure where a surgeon makes two or three small incisions in the flesh over the joint and gets into the joint using an arthroscope, or a thin, flexible, fiberoptic instrument, to repair cartilage or remove bone chips in or near the joint.

Joint replacement: If other treatments do not help, surgery may be needed to replace the joint once the cartilage that cushions and protects the ends of the bones gradually wears away. This can be done for hip, knee and shoulder joints.

A surgeon removes parts of the patient’s bone and implants an artificial joint made from metal or plastic. This procedure has had excellent results and the majority of patients feel long-lasting pain relief after this type of surgery.

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