Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

How common is Rheumatoid Arthritis pain?

For patients, Rheumatoid Arthritis pain is the most noticeable symptom of the disease. For those who don’t have RA, it is the most invisible.

Most people with RA experience pain every day. The largest ever study of RA pain, which questioned 27,459 RA patients, established that although 75% of people with RA take pain-relief medications, 72% of them still experience daily pain. (1)

Disease treatment can reduce pain if it is very effective. However, when it doesn’t, pain management techniques must be employed. For a majority of people, pain management is as important as disease management.

What is RA pain management?

Managing pain means finding ways to lessen pain when it cannot be eliminated by disease treatment. There are two aspects to pain management: coping with pain and actually decreasing pain. Both are useful, but the latter takes priority.

Unfortunately, 68% of patients in the aforementioned study said they felt the need to conceal RA pain. Concealing pain is an example of a coping technique rather than actual pain relief. Although coping is valuable, actually reducing pain is more important because the goal is to help people with RA to be more physically comfortable and functional. Reducing pain can help people with RA to be more productive and live the life they want to live.

Pain management techniques include physical methods such as rest, stretching, yoga, and the application of cold or heat. Coping methods include meditation, deep breathing, prayer, and counseling. There are several types of topical pain relieving creams sold to temporarily relieve pain, often by confusing nerve endings with an alternate sensation.

There are also a variety of medications which can relieve pain, depending on how severe it is and how the patient responds. Analgesics (such as acetaminophen), anti-inflammatories (such as steroids or NSAIDs), and natural or artificial opiates (such as hydrocodone or morphine) can be prescribed as pills, injections, patches or creams. Most are only available by prescription, but all should be used with medical supervision if used regularly. Pain may also be relieved or blocked surgically.  Finally, there are non-medicine alternatives such as electric stimulation, acupuncture, biofeedback, and hypnosis.

What can do doctors do about Rheumatoid Arthritis pain?

Just as there is variety in what patients experience with RA pain, there is variety in approaches to RA pain. Some doctors who treat RA assert that it’s the most painful disease because nerve endings are directly exposed to destructive disease activity. Other doctors ask patients questions like, “Why do you say it hurts?”

Most people with RA will experience some pain that is severe enough to require medical help. At that point, they will need to find a doctor with an understanding of how painful RA is. If a particular rheumatology specialist does not treat pain, a general practitioner or a pain management specialist may help with RA pain management. Pain management doctors also vary, some specializing in surgical options and others in prescription treatments or alternatives.

Do I have to live with terrible pain?

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an extremely harsh disease. A lot is demanded of resilient people with RA who tolerate difficult treatments and endure disability and pain. However, RA patients cannot be allowed to live without hope of relief.

Options ought to never be exhausted to bring pain relief. When we think about it, most people don’t even believe that animals ought to be allowed to suffer needlessly. How much more is it always wrong for people to suffer if it can be helped?


1) Strand, Vibeke; Emery, Paul; Fleming, Scott; Griffin, Catherine; The Impact of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) on Women: Focus on Pain, Productivity and Relationships. [abstract]. Arthritis Rheum 2010;62 Suppl 10 :1063 DOI: 10.1002/art.28830

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