Rheumatoid arthritis experts help ease what hurts.
Sure, anti-inflammatories can work wonders on your achy knee or stiff neck. But sometimes, a simple trick can ease the pain, too—if only you could find it!
To give you a hand, we asked experts for their favorite do-it-yourself solutions for relieving aches and pains based on where it hurts, as well as what might be causing the pain. Just be sure to check with your healthcare provider before giving any of these a try.
If your problem is...
Anyone who works at a desk or computer knows neck pain, says Barbara Bergin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics Sports & Rehabilitation Associates in Austin. Besides hours of bad posture, other causes can be arthritis, compressed nerves or an injury.
Try this: Pillows—while you sleep. This gives the area a break from unnatural positions held during the day. “Get one firm feather pillow and two soft ones to prop your shoulders and cushion your neck when you’re reading in bed,” says Dr. Bergin. Before you sleep, pack the pillows around your shoulders and neck so that they’re supported in as natural a position as possible. Or try a U-shaped neck pillow (like the ones you buy at airports), and always travel with one as well.
This has many causes, including arthritis, sprains and tendinitis (inflammation of the shoulder tendons), says personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist Kian Ameli, owner of Momentum Fitness in Concord, CA.
Try this: “My favorite tool for chronic shoulder pain is a foam roller,” says Ameli, because it can release tension and massage sore muscles at the same time. He suggests keeping it near your TV and using it during commercials. You can find them in the sporting goods section or online (either a 3-foot or 18-inch roller will work). To do: Sit down in front of the roller (placed horizontally), then lean back, rolling and stretching your spine up and over the roller, supporting your head with your hands. Keep your bottom on the ground and your abs tight. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
This pesky ache can come from trauma, arthritic joint changes or even from sitting too long on hard surfaces, says Dr. Bergin.
Try this: Cushion your seat by placing a pillow under your tailbone everywhere you sit—including movie seats, says Dr. Bergin. Either a feather or donut pillow will work.
Sore, tight muscles
Bad posture, too much exercise and muscle strains are common culprits.
Try this: Apply ice for swelling and recent injuries; use moist heat to relax the area (especially if you’re going to be exercising). If you have persistent pain, ask your doctor for advice. Using medicated patches for strained areas like the knee, elbow or shoulder might help, says Coleen Kenny, RN, MS, a nurse practitioner at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
These result from inflammation that’s stirred up when a muscle is overused or injured, says rheumatologist Nathan Wei, MD, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, MD.
Try this: “A moist heating pad is your friend,” says Dr. Wei. “When you get a muscle spasm, put moist heat on it right away.” Leave the pad on for about 15-20 minutes. The moist heat relaxes sore, tight muscles and increases blood circulation to the area, which speeds up the healing process. Moist heating pads are available at most drugstores and online.
“Muscle and general back pain are caused by many things, from arthritis, to long hours on your feet, to slumping over the computer,” says Nancy Beck, RN, a hospital nurse in Columbia, MO.
Try this: “Take a 20-minute Dead Sea Salts hot bath,” says Beck. These salts contain several muscle-relaxing minerals such as magnesium and bromide. “Use one handful of salt and shower it off afterwards,” says Beck. Can’t find ’em? Epsom salts will work, too, although they contain only magnesium.
On days when you overdo it, arthritis pain can rear up suddenly, notes Kenny.
Try this: “Ice decreases pain-producing inflammatory agents,” says Kenny. Apply a bag of frozen peas or corn for no more than 15 minutes to an aching back or shoulder. “Or freeze water in a paper cup and peel it down like popsicle paper to ice round spots like shoulders, knees and heels,” she says.