Factors That Influence Chronic Arthritis Pain

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Arthritis often causes chronic pain, which is often defined as pain lasting for twelve weeks or more. Over time, it tends to be variable rather than constant. You may have long stretches lasting for weeks or months during which you can experience milder or more intense pain, and you may even notice a difference in intensity throughout the day. Treatment can often control or diminish the pain, but so can identifying some of the factors that can play into the chronic pain of arthritis so you can either address them or make modifications with them in mind.

factors that influence chronic arthritis pain
Verywell /  Emily Roberts

Time of Day

The pain of arthritis often varies at different times of the day. For example, inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are characterized by morning stiffness. This is usually characterized by considerable stiffness and pain for an hour or more after waking from sleep. With osteoarthritis, on the other hand, pain and stiffness typically improve within 30 minutes after waking from sleep.

Physical Activity Level

Physical activity is beneficial for your overall general health. It is especially important that you maintain regular physical activity if you have arthritis. For the most part, activities such as moderate walking, swimming, stretches, and non-weight bearing yoga exercises can keep your muscles strong and protect your joints.

Too much physical activity can cause arthritis pain to flare up, though, so be sure to pace your activities to protect your joints. A good rule of thumb is to only minimally increase your level of activity every week or so, rather than trying to challenge yourself by advancing quickly.

If you experience severe pain during or after exercise, it's possible that your level of activity has been too much for your joints, which may be unstable or deteriorated. Talk to your physical therapist or healthcare provider to see if you have been injured and to get individualized recommendations for future activity.

Pressure on Your Joints

Osteoarthritis pain, especially of the hips and knees, is typically worse when you are engaged in weight-bearing activities such as running. Sometimes, the pain level can be reduced to essentially nothing if you sit or lie down. If you are overweight, losing weight may reduce the burden on your joints and lessen the impact of weight-bearing activities.

Disease Severity

Joint damage contributes to your level of pain. Extensive damage interferes with your ability to get comfortable no matter what other circumstances exist. "Bone-on-bone" is a term used to describe when there is minimal cartilage left covering the bones in a joint. When bone rubs on bone, the result is a constant pain. At that point, ​joint replacement is often the only treatment that can make things better.

Flare-Up Triggers

You can have arthritis flare-ups with any type of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is often exacerbated if you experience stress or an illness, and some people experience flare-ups when the weather is hot or humid. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, typically acts up due to physical exertion or an injury. Psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory type of arthritis, may flare without an obvious reason, requiring high doses of anti-inflammatory medication for a limited period of time.

A Word From Verywell

Managing arthritis pain requires some flexibility, as you may have times when you need to take high doses of medication just to get through the day and other times when your pain is controlled with exercise.

Whether you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or one of the over 100 types of less common kinds of arthritis, you may be able to spot patterns when it comes to your pain. You may want to keep a pain diary, noting the times when it is better or worse and what activities you were engaged in prior to these changes. This can help you and your healthcare provider develops some lifestyle strategies and better anticipate when you can take medications to prevent your pain.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Deveza L, Hunter D. An update on the treatment of osteoarthritis in obese patientsExpert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy. 2016;17(6):753-755. doi:10.1517/14656566.2016.1165208

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Additional Reading

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."