When two popular prescription arthritis drugs were pulled off the market in 2004 and 2005, arthritis sufferers were left to scramble for alternative pain relief. The anti-inflammation drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors were found to increase heart attack and stroke risks. Other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are still available, but their tendency to cause stomach irritation rules them out for many people.
Other pain-relief options do exist, but the truth is, some therapies work, others are ineffective—and if you suffer from arthritis, you probably need to take a multipronged approach to reduce your pain, such as incorporating a good diet, exercise and nondrug interventions like meditation. Talk with your doctor before trying any therapy or supplement, since some treatments can cause unwanted—and sometimes dangerous—side effects. Read on for some options you may want to ask your doctor about.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) delivers safe, low-volt electrical currents through electrodes taped on or near painful areas, using a small, battery-operated device. TENS can provide short-term pain relief by blocking pain messages to the brain and modifying pain perception.
A massage therapist can ease joint pain and stiffness by kneading or stroking the affected area. Regular massages can improve sleep and boost your body’s production of natural painkilling hormones called endorphins.
Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine may help lessen osteoarthritis pain, according to the National Institute on Aging. Herbal supplements containing turmeric and ginger may reduce inflammation and pain. And the Arthritis Foundation reports that S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e) increases joint flexibility and decreases pain.
Acupuncture uses fine needles that stimulate points in your body to release endorphins and fight inflammation. Acupuncture may be especially helpful in relieving knee pain from osteoarthritis.
Studies show that adding omega-3 fats to your diet may ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and reduce the need for medication. These fats can be found in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines; flaxseed, olive and canola oils; and fish oil supplements. Gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a fat found in borage seed oil and evening primrose seed oil supplements, may help, too.
Sitting quietly and letting your thoughts and outside stimuli “flow by” can ease arthritis pain and relieve the stress that can lead to flare-ups.
Over-the-counter creams, ointments and patches containing capsaicin, an ingredient found in hot peppers, are recommended by the American College of Rheumatology for soothing knee osteoarthritis pain. Use with caution, however: These products may cause skin irritation.
Depending on your needs, your doctor may also suggest physical therapy, water therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and biofeedback to help control pain.