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Osteoarthritis: Coping with Pain

Smiling woman with eyes closed wearing headphones.

There are many ways to control your pain. You’re making a good start by learning about osteoarthritis and its treatments. Knowing more about this condition helps you work with your healthcare provider to find answers to problems. Keeping a positive outlook can help you manage pain from day to day. And making time each day to relax and enjoy yourself may help you control osteoarthritis pain, instead of letting it control you. Try these methods to help you cope with, and even reduce, your pain.

Take control

Relaxing may help relieve muscle aches that result from joint pain. To relax, try these techniques:

  • Breathe slowly and calmly and think of a peaceful scene.

  • Meditate by focusing your mind on one word, object, or idea.

Getting plenty of sleep can help reduce pain and let you function better. If pain is making it hard for you to sleep, ask your healthcare provider about ways to control pain and ensure a good night’s sleep. Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol can help you sleep better. So can going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day.

Use distraction

Getting your mind off the pain may seem hard to do. But it can actually help reduce pain. When you are in pain, try one of these ways of distracting yourself:

  • Watch a funny movie with a friend.

  • Listen to music you enjoy.

  • Read a novel.

  • Talk with friends or family.

  • Go to a museum, park, or other favorite attraction.

  • Arrange to do a regular activity, such as volunteer work.

Heat and cold

Using heat and cold treatments are simple ways to lessen arthritis symptoms:

  • Heat soothes stiff joints and tired muscles. Heat works well before exercise, for example. Heat treatments include:

    • A warm shower or bath, or soak (for example, fill the sink with warm water and move your fingers, hands, and wrists around in the water)

    • A moist heating pad

    • A warm, moist wash cloth

    • An electric blanket or throw

  • Cold treatments help to numb painful areas and decrease swelling. Cold treatments include the following wrapped in a thin towel:

    • An ice pack or bag of ice. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top.

    • A gel-filled cold pack

Be careful when using heat or cold. You can injure your skin. Each treatment should only last for 10 to 20 minutes. Your healthcare provider or therapist can give you specific instructions.


Acupuncture is a 2,000-year-old practice. Providers insert thin needles in specific parts of the body. Research shows that it can help to relieve the pain of arthritis.

For more information or to find a provider in your area, contact the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Its website is:


Therapeutic massage has many benefits. It may:

  • Help you and your muscles relax

  • Improve blood flow to muscles and joints

  • Help joints stay more flexible

Look for a certified massage therapist. Many are trained to treat sore muscles and joint pain and stiffness.

Vitamins, supplements, and herbs

People with arthritis, or other long-term conditions that cause pain, often look for alternative ways to lessen pain. Vitamins, supplements, and herbs may or may not help you to feel better. Before you try any vitamin, supplement, or herb, make sure you ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Physical therapy and occupational therapy

Evaluation by a physical therapist and or occupational therapist for assessment for limitations in activities of daily living

Help with developing an appropriate exercise routine for both muscle strengthening and cardiovascular health

Weight management

Studies have shown that weight loss in overweight people can improve osteoarthritis symptoms.

Talk with your healthcare provider about your optimal ideal weight and weight management methods if needed.

Psychological treatments

Research shows that many psychological therapies or those that deal with thinking and emotions, help people cope with arthritis pain. Therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), pain coping skills training, biofeedback, stress management, and hypnosis. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these therapies.

For more information about many of these methods, contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2018
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.