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What can I do for long-term joint pain?

Some conditions, such as arthritis, mean you may have to learn how to live with a certain amount of continuing joint pain. It may seem daunting at first, but many people can live very full and active lives with long-term joint conditions.

It's important to focus on the things that you can do rather than on what you can't. Keeping fit and socially active can really help to distract you from your pain. Not all people with arthritis will need joint replacement surgery. The following strategies will help you to minimise your pain, and live a full and active life.

Manage your weight

Being overweight puts extra strain on your joints. Losing weight will help to decrease your pain – even a small weight loss will help. Making sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet can also make you feel better and helps to keep your weight down.

Stop smoking

Smoking not only damages your lungs, it can also make inflammatory conditions such as arthritis worse. It also slows down how quickly you heal. If you might need surgery, it is essential that you stop smoking – many surgeons will not offer you an operation if you smoke.

Keep moving

People with painful joints often avoid moving around much, because they think it will make their pain worse. But keeping active will actually make you feel better.

Regular, moderate activity keeps your muscles strong, keeps your weight under control, makes you feel better, and reduces joint pain and stiffness. Exercises in water or on a bike are low-impact and are unlikely to make joint pain worse. Arthritis New Zealand has more information on activity for arthritis and specific programmes in your area. Or you can speak to your GP.

This arthritis pain relief video from the American Centers for Disease Control shows how regular activity can help you do what you want to do in life, rather than letting pain get in the way.

Pain relief

Your GP can prescribe safe pain relief to help with your symptoms, particularly to relieve pain at night. Unfortunately, there are no medications that can completely remove the pain from joints, but medication and making sure you have a healthy lifestyle can make a real difference.

This pain relief page has information about ways to improve joint pain without medication.

Managing chronic pain

Having pain that never completely goes away can be very tiring and frustrating. It is important to look after your physical and mental health while you are living with long-term pain.

It's also important that you remain as independent as possible, and keep doing the things you enjoy doing. If you find living with chronic pain saps your energy levels, find out more about how to conserve energy.

Who can help me live with long-term joint pain?

Your GP can help you manage your pain, and can also direct you to other appropriate health professionals and services. Some GPs are also trained to perform joint injections, if you need these. If you need help to find a GP, you can use this link.

Physiotherapists have expert knowledge of how joints work. They can help you with techniques to manage your pain, and also give you exercises to strengthen your muscles. You can search for a private physiotherapist on Physiotherapy.org.nz.

You might like to ask your GP or physiotherapist about getting a Green Prescription, to find out what activities will suit you.

Occupational therapists look at how you do your everyday activities in your normal environment. This can include how you can keep working and driving. They can then recommend lifestyle changes, activities, equipment, and support that will help you get the most out of your daily life. You can search for a private occupational therapist on Occupational Therapy New Zealand.

Podiatrists can look at how you are walking and moving to see if changing that can help reduce your pain. They may also be able to recommend footwear and shoe inserts that will help. You can search for a private podiatrist on Podiatry NZ.

Your GP might also suggest referring you to the chronic pain team at Burwood Hospital if they think specialist input could help you manage your pain.

As well, appropriate support organisations such as Arthritis New Zealand can provide you with lots of information, ideas and events in your area.

On the next page: Pain relief for long-term joint pain and arthritis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by occupational therapy liaison, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed August 2017.

See also:

Persistent pain (chronic pain)

Disability aids

Page reference: 174495

Review key: HILJP-228010