Inflammatory arthritis is the term used to describe conditions characterized by pain, swelling, tenderness and warmth in the joints, as well as morning stiffness that lasts for longer than an hour. The most common types are rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, lupus), gout and ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
In these diseases, the immune system doesn’t quite work properly and releases inflammatory chemicals that attacks joint tissue. The resulting inflammation attacks joint tissues and can cause joint swelling, increased joint fluid, cartilage and bone damage, and even muscle loss. Nerves in the joints are activated, causing pain. The inflammatory chemicals may also directly activate the nerves of the body and lead to pain.
Inflammatory pain may be caused by:
- Synovitis. The thin membrane (synovium) lining the joints becomes inflamed, releasing chemicals that irritate nerves and increase fluid in the joint.
- Bone erosions. Damaged, pitted bones in your joints cause pain.
- Swollen joint capsule. Fluid builds in the joint from the inflamed synovium, causing pressure, stiffness and pain.
- Ligament damage. The effects of inflammation can damage these bands of flexible tissue that support the joint.
- Muscle weakness. Reduced muscle strength puts more stress on joints.
- Joint fusion. Especially in ankylosing spondylitis, small bones that form the backbone (vertebrae) may fuse together, making it harder and more painful to move.
- Centralized pain. The chronic (long-lasting) pain of inflammatory arthritis can in some cases cause you to become more sensitive to pain.
You can manage your pain and minimize the many effects pain can have on your life. It’s important to target many links in the pain chain, from the disease itself to your sleep, diet and stress levels. You may need to try several different treatments as you develop your personalized pain management plan. From dietary supplements to acupuncture to yoga, there are many complementary and alternative pain relief options that can augment your medication regimen.
Pay attention to your joints, whether sitting, standing or engaging in activity.
- Keep your joints moving. Do daily, gentle stretches that move your joints through their full range of motion.
- Use good posture. A physical therapist can show you how to sit, stand and move correctly.
- Know your limits. Balance activity and rest, and don't overdo it.
- Hot and cold therapy can reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Cold is best for acute pain. It restricts blood vessels, slows circulation and reduces swelling. It also numbs nerve endings, dulling pain, so it’s especially good for joint pain caused by a flare. Heat relaxes your muscles and stimulates blood circulation. You can use dry heat, such as a heating pad, or moist heat, such as a warm bath. It’s good for easing morning stiffness or for getting your body limber and ready to exercise.
- Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Weight management is about balancing the number of calories you consume from foods and beverages with the number of calories your body uses (in normal body functions, daily activities and exercise).
- Anti-inflammatory foods can help ease your arthritis pain. A proper diet is essential to maintaining a healthy weight. Furthermore, certain foods can have a beneficial effect on your arthritis. Eating nutrient-dense foods will make it easy to consume an appropriate number of calories while getting all the vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein you need