For people with osteoarthritis who have very little inflammation, pain relievers such as acetaminophen may be effective. Those with rheumatoid arthritis generally have pain caused by inflammation and often benefit from aspirin or other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Heat or Cold?
Decisions about whether to use heat or cold for arthritis pain depend on the type of arthritis and should be discussed with your doctor or physical therapist. Typically, moist heat (e.g., warm bath or shower), or dry heat (e.g., heating pad), placed on the painful joint for about 15 minutes may relieve the pain.
Ice packs wrapped in a towel and placed on the sore area for about 15 minutes may help to reduce swelling and relieve pain. If you have poor circulation, do not use cold packs.
Using a splint or a brace to allow joints to rest and protect them from injury can be helpful. Your physician or physical therapist can make specific recommendations.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS units, devices that direct mild electric pulses to nerve endings that lie beneath the skin in the painful area, may relieve some arthritis pain. TENS seems to work by blocking pain messages to the brain and by modifying pain perception.
During a massage session, a massage therapist will lightly stroke or knead the painful muscle. This may increase blood flow and bring warmth to a stressed area. However, arthritis-affected joints are very sensitive, so the therapist must be familiar with the disease and be cautious.