Self-Care Tips for Managing Joint Aches and Pain
By Sheryl Stillman for Next Avenue
Feeling sore? Do your muscles ache? Or are you recovering from a recent sprain or break? Between over-the-counter products, prescription medicines, corticosteroid shots or gels or physical therapy, there is a plethora of non-medical ways to try and relieve discomfort.
For acute injuries, those that happen suddenly, medical experts recommend the "RICE" method, shown below, to reduce pain and swelling and speed up healing. Unless a bone is sticking out or you are bleeding uncontrollably, RICE is often the first thing doctors suggest if you have twisted, bent or fallen, resulting in a body sprain, strain, torn ligament, fracture or dislocation.
Rest: Stay off your injury and limit your normal activities.
Ice: Place ice packs (or a bag of frozen veggies) on your injury for 15-20 minutes, several times a day.
Compression: Wear an Ace bandage or compression sleeve.
Elevate: Keep your injury raised, over your heart and as high as you can.
For general well-being, here are some lesser-known solutions to care for your body.
"Don't slouch over your computer," Gail Lynde wrote on Next Avenue's Facebook page when we asked what people wished they had known before an injury or procedure.
Practicing good posture while both sitting and standing can assist in alignment and prevent excess strain on your joints, muscles and spine.
Learn Your Genetics
"Having a history of your family's medical background is priceless," says Amy Davis. Davis, 59, from Fort Wayne, Ind., recently had a Total Knee Arthroplasty after learning she had bone-on-bone osteoarthritis.
Understanding what you may be genetically predisposed to can be eye-opening. Davis later found paternal cousins who also had similar issues when they were younger. "The earlier you can get information, the better," she says.
Examine Your Food
Sometimes, the foods we eat can bring on unexplained joint pain, said Dr. Siddharth Tambar, a rheumatologist with Chicago Arthritis and Regenerative Medicine in Chicago. "So, taking the time to figure out which ones can help relieve discomfort that is often associated with arthritis."
A few ingredients the Arthritis Foundation says may lead to more pain include sugar, aspartame, MSG and alcohol.
Take Your Vitamins
Most doctors recommend taking Vitamin D supplements, especially between November and March, when many people are not outside in the sunshine as often.
While clinical data has yet to definitively show causal benefits, there is enough evidence to suggest that Vitamin K may be helpful for those suffering from osteoarthritis.
Ask your physician whether vitamins (along with dosage requirements) are right for you.
"There is a hesitancy in going out and doing things when you're in pain," says Linda Van Guilder, "but every time I do, it lifts my spirits." Van Guilder, an active 59-year-old, twisted her knee moving from one room to the next and was surprised to learn she also suffered from osteoarthritis.
"Staying connected with family and friends is crucial for a positive patient outcome when dealing with orthopedic treatment," says Dr. Andrew Grose, orthopedic trauma surgeon at HSS in Stamford, Conn.
Schedule a Massage
Deep-tissue massage and neuromuscular massage may help to relieve pain triggered by underlying issues.
"I used to consider any type of massage an 'unneeded luxury,'" said Van Guilder. However, she says massage has been a "game-changer" in bringing relief.
Whether you're recovering from an injury, experiencing limited mobility or hurting from repetitive strains, massage can help.
Bonus: If you have a physician's order, some massages may be covered under your health insurance plan. Be sure to ask your doctor or physician's assistant.
If a professional massage is not an option, consider purchasing a handheld massager instead.
Breathe and Meditate
Research shows the positive effects of meditation and mindfulness training.
"While we can never regain our youth, you can always improve your mental attitude towards life and aging," says Tambar. Spending a few minutes each day to clear your mind, be intentional and focus on breathing can help you feel better, not only mentally but physically as well.
And for those times when certain body parts are craving a little extra TLC? Here are top to bottom ideas to limit your pain:
For Your Shoulders
It often does feel like the world's weight is hinging on our shoulders; take a break and apply moist heat to help loosen muscles. Alternating between heat and ice may also reduce pain.
Another recommendation, "Learn to use your other hand," suggests Beth Combs, 60, from White Bear Lake, Minn. As a professional piano tuner, Combs needed to find alternate ways to continue working through her pain before and after undergoing shoulder surgery for multiple tears.
For Your Wrists
With our near-constant use of technology, Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon and hand/wrist specialist Dr. Sanjeev Kakar recommends using hands-free software and different fingers to text rather than only your thumbs. By doing so, you can reduce your risk of repetitive stress syndrome.
For Your Hips
Like your shoulders, going between hot and cold may provide relief. If you have access to a pool, experts suggest walking in the shallow end may ease pain as well.
On Your Knees
The knee, which is the largest and most complex joint in the human body, has a lot of responsibility in holding us up with a myriad of problems that can go wrong — from overuse to tears to bone shrinking away.
Wearing a knee brace or using arch supports may reduce pain and relieve pressure, respectively.
On Your Feet or Ankles
It is estimated that nearly three-quarters of the population will experience some sort of foot or ankle pain in their lifetime. And 10%-15% of those suffer from plantar fasciitis (PF), with more overweight, middle-aged women and young male athletes tipping the scale.
Studies show that wearing an ankle brace can help minimize the risk of injury or help you heal. Another option is to tape your foot or ankle with zinc oxide tape, which can also help reduce the pain and swelling of PF.
In addition, massaging a small amount of castor oil on your heel or site of pain can reduce the swelling and pain often associated with PF. A natural inflammatory, castor oil may also be used after surgery to reduce the appearance of scars.
Kakar cautions that after a short period of time, if your discomfort does not dissipate, visit a specialist to determine whether there is an underlying condition.
Frequently, he sees patients who have injured themselves go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room for an X-ray, and it is read as normal.
"These patients may discount their pain," says Kakar, "when in fact, soft tissue injuries cannot be seen on an X-ray and require more advanced technology such as an MRI or ultrasound to better delineate the injury."
Editor’s note: The above suggestions are not meant as medical advice. Please check with your physician to ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment plan specific for your condition.