How to Get Relief From Arthritis Joint Pain

Medications, topical pain relievers, injections, and more

If you have arthritis, joint pain relief is an important part of your treatment and management plan.

Many treatment options are available, including arthritis medication, topical treatments, injections, and more.

This article discusses joint pain causes and arthritis treatments that you may want to explore.

Woman with joint pain

Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Causes of Joint Pain

The word arthritis means joint pain. It’s the name of a large group of diseases, and it’s also sometimes used to describe a symptom, such as when an illness like the flu causes joint pain.

Chronic Joint Pain

Arthritic diseases are chronic, meaning they won’t go away (although they can be well managed). Common forms of arthritis include:

Acute Joint Pain

Acute (short-term) causes of joint pain usually go away. However, some injuries and illnesses can lead to chronic pain. These causes include:

Joint Pain Treatment

If your joint pain is caused by acute injury or illness, treating the underlying cause usually helps manage and eliminate the pain. Even so, if it’s severe enough, you may need to find ways to manage it until you feel better.

For joint pain from chronic conditions, your treatment will likely be ongoing for the rest of your life. Some people find relief from a single treatment, but it’s more common to use several types.

Medications

Multiple classes of medications are used to treat joint pain. These types of drugs include anti-inflammatories, opioids, and more.

Anti-Inflammatories

To treat basic inflammation from any source, anti-inflammatory drugs are a mainstay.

Corticosteroids (also called steroids) are powerful anti-inflammatories. However, they also have a high rate of side effects and complications, so they’re preferred for short-term use only. Oral (by mouth) steroids are by prescription only. Examples include:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) come in over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription varieties. OTC NSAIDs are: Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).

Some NSAIDs only available by prescription are:

Due to possible side effects and complications, you shouldn’t stay on NSAIDs longer than you need to.

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is the drug in Tylenol and many other prescription and OTC products. It’s effective at treating pain but doesn’t reduce inflammation, so it’s less commonly used for arthritis.

Opioids

Opioids (also called opiates or narcotics) are powerful but problematic painkillers. Their potential for addiction has put them at the center of a nationwide epidemic of overuse and overdose. That’s led to limited access for the people who need them for pain management.

Opioids change the way your brain processes pain signals to make you care less about the pain. Common ones include:

Arthritis Medications

A few classes of prescription arthritis drugs provide relief to millions of people with chronic joint pain. These include disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), and biologics, like Enbrel (etanercept) and Humira (adalimumab).

Topical Agents

Topical treatments are ones you use on your skin. They come in creams, gels, patches, and other forms. Several topical agents can be very effective for joint pain. Common active ingredients include:

Topical medications can cause side effects, just like their oral counterparts. So be sure to handle them carefully and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Injections

Several types of injections are available for joint pain. These need to be given by a healthcare provider in a medical setting.

Injections are a good way to get pain relief inside the joint, where needed. Examples include:

Sometimes lidocaine (a topical anesthetic) is injected to help with pain management. It’s less common, though, because it doesn’t address the inflammation or other underlying causes of joint pain.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy aims to relieve joint pain and get your body moving better through strength and flexibility. This may involve:

  • Improved posture
  • Increased strength and flexibility
  • Modifying the way you use a joint
  • Using braces, splints, and other joint-supporting products
  • Learning to use assistive devices (walkers, canes)
  • Changes to your environment, such as ergonomic products

Your physical therapist may also do several things to help relieve your pain, including:

At-Home Treatments

You can do several things at home to help alleviate your joint pain. Home remedies include:

  • Resting
  • Choosing appropriate activity levels
  • Stretching
  • Heat therapy (warm baths or showers, heating pads)
  • Cold therapy (ice packs)
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider for your joint pain if:

  • It’s not gone after several days
  • You also have severe, unexplained pain and swelling, especially with other unexplained symptoms
  • You also have a fever but no flu symptoms
  • You’ve lost 10 or more pounds without trying

If your healthcare provider suspects arthritis, they may order tests or refer you to a rheumatologist.

Summary

Joint pain from arthritis can be chronic or acute, depending on the underlying cause. Treatment depends on the cause. Joint pain treatments generally involve anti-inflammatories and arthritis medications, topical treatments, injections, physical therapy, and home care.

A Word From Verywell

Joint pain, especially when chronic, can have a significant impact on your quality of life. It’s not something you have to live with, though. With proper treatment, you can get your symptoms under control and enjoy your life. The first step is seeing your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the fastest way to reduce joint inflammation?

    The fastest way to reduce inflammation is icing. Put an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables on the sore area for 20 minutes several times a day. 

  • Why does arthritis hurt more at night?

    One theory is that it’s due to lower cortisol levels, which regulate inflammation. It’s also possible lying down triggers pain more or that the lack of distraction makes you more aware of the pain.

  • Is apple cider vinegar good for arthritis?

    Some alternative medical professionals tout apple cider vinegar as a remedy for arthritis. It may have anti-inflammatory properties, but there’s no scientific evidence that it’s helpful for arthritis.

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.
  1. MedlinePlus. Joint pain.

  2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Oral corticosteroid medications.

  3. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are prescription opioids?

  4. Arthritis Foundation. Topical treatments for arthritis pain.

  5. Arthritis Foundation. Joint injections for arthritis pain.

  6. Arthritis Foundation. Physical therapy for arthritis.

  7. Arthritis Foundation. Your body’s internal clock affects arthritis symptoms.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.