Pain Self-Management Tools

Pain Self-Management Tools

An important part of  arthritis pain control is self-management. This refers to activities and supports that you can use on your own to reduce joint pain. The following provides information, tools and strategies to help you take an active role in arthritis pain relief. 

Physical Activity & Exercise

A female doing yogaArthritis may cause you to avoid physical activity for a number of reasons, including fear of making your arthritis worse, because movement is painful, or because you are tired. Although it may be difficult to stay active when living with joint pain, maintaining regular physical activity can be an important part of pain control and retraining the brain to experience pain less intensely. 

Physical activity can release endorphin hormones, which reduce stress and pain. Exercise can also stimulate the release of hormones that increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing (such as serotonin and dopamine). Physical activity overall helps improve strength, range of motion, sleep, and energy, which can have a positive impact on our experience of pain. 

When we avoid doing activities that we believe will result in pain, we can reinforce the brain’s perception that these activities are associated with danger and pain. However, consistent participation in safe physical activity can help retrain the brain. When taking part in physical activity, make sure to pace yourself by balancing periods of activity with periods of rest. Instead of going for very long, high-endurance walks or hikes, consider going for shorter and more frequent walks throughout the day. 

There are many benefits to physical activity and exercise if you are living with arthritis. A regular routine can increase your strength, your energy and your flexibility. Research shows that physical activity helps people manage their joint pain and can also relieve stiffness, improve energy, and make your everyday activities easier to do. It can also help with weight management, which may play a role in reducing pain for some people.

Getting started

There are a few basic principles that will help you get started:

  1. Consult with your health care team about physical activity and exercise that will work for you given your personal situation. A physiotherapist can help develop a therapeutic exercise program unique to your needs.

  2. Start slowly and pace yourself

  3. Find activities you enjoy since you are more likely to stick with these in the long term

  4. Exercise with a friend

  5. Remember to warm up before exercise and cool down afterwards

Setting achievable goals related to physical activity will help you gain some control over your pain. Below is a list of resources to help you get moving.

Exercise videos

*Please consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise

Eating Well

Two lunch portions of chicken and greens, nuts and cherry tomatoWhile unfortunately there is no miracle diet for arthritis, food can play a significant role in arthritis pain control. What we eat can impact inflammation as well as our energy levels, mood, and weight, which are all factors in how we experience arthritis pain. For people living with gout, diet is particularly important when it comes to managing symptoms.  

Additionally, research has shown that for people living with knee OA and carrying excess weight, a reduction in weight by 10% or more can have a significant impact on joint pain, mobility and function. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and manage weight. Keep in mind portion sizes by using the balanced plate approach: make 1/2 your meal vegetables or fruit, 1/4 whole grains, and 1/4 protein foods, choosing plant proteins more often.  

Visit the resources below to learn more about how food can help you take control of your arthritis symptoms.  

Heat/Cold Therapy

Heat and cold therapies can be helpful for short-term pain relief. Cold therapy can be used to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling if your joints are hot and swollen. Heat therapy is helpful for relaxing muscles and improving circulation. Be sure to protect yourself by placing a cloth or towel between the heat/cold treatment and your skin.

Mindfulness Meditation and other Mind-Body Approaches

An older male with greay hair and beard, seating, meditatingOur brain is a powerful tool we can use to help control our experience of pain. Of course, pain isn’t “just in our heads,” but science has shown that techniques such as mindfulness meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy, distraction, and visualization may help reduce the intensity of the pain we experience.  

Below are some resources on mind-body approaches you can try.   

Assistive Devices and Joint Protection

A female walking with polesTaking action to protect your joints and minimize joint strain can help reduce arthritis pain and make daily tasks easier. Assistive devices can include practical tools and gadgets, mobility aids, medical equipment or assistive technologies that help you perform activities of daily living more easily, such as cooking, walking, or getting dressed. There are also physical joint protection techniques you can use to avoid putting weight on your joints in awkward positions and to reduce strain.

Visit the resources below to learn more about what you can do to help relieve joint pain.


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Additional Resources