by Frisbie Memorial

Anyone who experiences joint pain — and associated symptoms such as stiffness, achiness or soreness — knows that it can make daily activities a chore and even diminish your quality of life.

Pain in the joints may derive from a variety of injuries and conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), bursitis, osteoarthritis and tendinitis. It most commonly tends to be in the hands, feet, hips, knees or spine.

If the pain is related to inflammatory conditions like RA, symptoms tend to be worse in the morning but improve over the course of the day as you move and loosen up. Pain associated with degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis, on the other hand, tend to get worse as the day goes on.

But luckily, for the more than 53 million Americans with conditions that cause joint pain, there are ways to get relief. Talk with your doctor about which of the following methods might work best for you as part of your overall treatment plan.

At-home management for joint pain

For pain associated with conditions other than arthritis, it may be possible to find reprieve through routine management techniques at home. Massages, warm baths and stretching can loosen joints and relieve discomfort.

Pain relievers for joint pain

You might also try over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen. In some cases, your doctor may recommend stronger prescription doses. If you have stomach ulcers or kidney, liver or heart disease, check with your doctor to make sure these medications are safe for you.

Exercises to relieve joint pain

When you have joint pain, the last thing you probably want to do is exercise. But as long as you’re cleared by your doctor, it’s actually important to keep moving and it may be a valuable part of your treatment.

Without a regular exercise routine, it’s possible that your muscles and posture will become weaker, which in turn may cause more pain and discomfort. Exercise can also help increase your flexibility and strengthen muscles which, in turn, can help manage symptoms.

Low-impact workouts like swimming and walking are ideal for those with joint pain. Meanwhile, if you’re accustomed to high-intensity workouts like running, boot camp classes or heavy weight lifting, you may need to scale back and opt for something less strenuous.

Weight loss to relieve joint pain

Not surprisingly, carrying around extra weight puts pressure on load-bearing joints like knees and hips that may already be causing you pain.

Maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you’re overweight, can improve the health of your joints in a major way.

Studies have shown that one of the best ways to reduce your risk for osteoarthritis is to lose weight if you are obese; even losing 10 to 15 pounds can help reduce your risk for the disease.

Talk with your doctor about a weight that’s healthy for you. Taking into account your body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and other health risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, your physician can help you understand whether or not you need to lose weight and can help you devise a healthy eating plan and exercise routine to help you drop pounds.

Topical treatments to relieve joint pain

Oral NSAIDs may be effective for treating joint pain, but there are also topical options in the form of gels, liquids or patches. While they’re not for everyone (they can cause problems for those with sensitive skin), topical pain relievers may be a better option than oral NSAIDs if:

  • You have arthritis-related pain in one or a couple of smaller joints like hands, elbows and ankles.
  • You’re over the age of 65.
  • Your stomach is sensitive to oral NSAIDs.
  • You have heart-related risk factors, and your doctor doesn’t want you to take oral NSAIDs.

Oral NSAIDs are absorbed into the bloodstream and can often cause stomach-related issues such as bleeding, ulcers or pain. While topical NSAIDs are absorbed into the bloodstream as well, not as much of the medication makes its way through the body, which makes them a good option for people for whom oral NSAIDs cause stomach problems.

Other treatments available for joint pain include supportive aids like braces to help you move around more easily, physical therapy, joint injections, prescription painkillers and, for severe cases, joint replacements. Working together with your doctor and care team, you can come up with a treatment plan that may combine many of these strategies to minimize your joint pain.

Frisbie Memorial Hospital offers comprehensive orthopedic care, including hip replacements. To see if you might be a candidate for joint replacement, take our free, confidential health risk assessment. Your personalized recommendations will be emailed to you, and there’s no further obligation.

This blog was written in 2018 for HCA Healthcare, medically reviewed in November 2023 and repurposed for the HCA Healthcare Capital Division in 2024.