6 Ways to Manage Chronic Psoriatic Arthritis Joint Pain

While there’s no cure for psoriatic arthritis, there are steps you can take to control one of the hallmark symptoms: chronic joint pain.

mature Black woman icing her neck and shoulder in pain
Try soothing stiff, swollen, painful joints with a heating pad or cold pack.Getty Images

Chronic joint pain and stiffness, especially in the smaller joints in the fingers, wrists, toes, and ankles, as well as the knees and lower back, is one of the major symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. With this autoimmune condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body, causing inflammation and swelling within the joints, which leads to pain.

While there is no cure for psoriatic arthritis, medical treatment is often the first line of defense to relieve symptoms, prevent progression, and improve quality of life. “The use of disease-modifying and targeted therapies can be the best route to relief of joint pain when joint inflammation occurs,” explains?Susan M. Goodman, MD, a?rheumatologist?at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

There are a variety of treatments for psoriatic arthritis to choose from, and advances in?psoriatic arthritis medication?and targeted therapies now offer more choices than ever before.

But in addition to following your psoriatic arthritis medication regimen, adding these steps to your overall management plan can help you find relief for chronic joint pain. Start with these six strategies.

1. Use Heat and Cold Therapies

Heat and cold therapies are both easy and inexpensive ways to relieve joint pain and can be used at?home?or at work.

Heat and cold?provide symptom relief,” says Dr. Goodman, “and cold therapy can help you cool down after exercise, which may make sticking to an exercise regimen easier.” This is an important consideration, as staying active is good for psoriatic arthritis management.

Cold therapy, such as an ice pack or ice bath, restricts blood vessels, and it can reduce inflammation and swelling and dull nerve sensations that contribute to joint pain. In a pinch, you can use a bag of frozen vegetables on aching joints.

Heat therapy, such as a heating pad or hot bath, increases circulation throughout your body. This allows the blood to flow more freely to your joints and surrounding muscles, loosening them up. Heat therapy is especially helpful for?stiff joints.

2. Exercise and Maintain a Healthy Weight

As mentioned, regular exercise can be one of the best ways to manage chronic joint pain related to psoriatic arthritis. Research shows that a regular exercise regimen reduces pain and improves physical function in people living with psoriatic arthritis.

Regular exercise can also help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, which is important because extra pounds can tax the joints, particularly in the knees and hips.

Depending on the severity of your condition, certain exercises may be better suited for you. For example, if you experience pain in your toe, ankle, or knee joints, water?walking?is a great activity to try that doesn’t put stress or pressure on these joints. Daily stretching and range-of-motion exercises may also be beneficial.

Consider meeting with a?physical therapist, who can tailor an exercise routine to your needs. “For instance, if you’ve lost range of motion in your shoulder, a physical therapist can design a regimen to help you regain that,” explains Goodman. “For those with low back inflammation, a core-strengthening regimen can be very useful in maintaining symptom control and mobility.”

Just make sure to take it slow, and don’t overdo it. “While joint inflammation is active, rigorous exercise can increase pain,” says Goodman. “I advise people who have psoriatic arthritis to trust their bodies when they work out, and if an exercise is painful or uncomfortable, don’t do it.”

RELATED: 11 Easy Hand and Foot Exercise for Psoriatic Arthritis

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3. Strengthen Muscles

When you think of exercise, you likely picture?aerobic?activities, like walking or dancing. But?strong muscles eliminate unnecessary stress and pressure from aching joints. The stronger your muscles are, the better they’re able to support your joints and protect them from swelling and injury.

Weight training can be as simple as using hand weights to do biceps curls and shoulder presses or using your own body weight to do squats or improve your core strength. The?Arthritis Foundation?recommends lighter weights and higher repetitions to avoid aggravating?psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

4. Try Complementary Therapies

Anecdotally, many people who have psoriatic arthritis have turned to complementary or?alternative therapies?to help with symptoms like chronic joint pain. You may want to test them out to see if they help your symptoms. Try experimenting with:

  • Massage therapy?to soothe joint pain and stiffness and improve range of motion — though you’ll want to reschedule an appointment if a flare crops up, as your joints may be especially tender and sensitive, per the?Arthritis Foundation.

  • Hydrotherapy such as warm baths or a warm-water pool or sauna — to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese therapy?in which needles are inserted into strategic parts of the body, has been shown to stimulate and release natural painkillers such as?adenosine,?endorphins, and?serotonin.
  • Meditation?Studies have shown meditation can ease chronic pain by improving sleep and gut health, and it may reduce depression and anxiety, as well as stress, which are all associated with psoriatic arthritis.

RELATED:?It’s Time to Reframe Chronic Pain

5. Use Assistive Devices

A number of?assistive devices?exist to help make life with psoriatic arthritis easier. Consider acquiring some of these essentials.

  • Automatic can opener:?This simple tool can make meal prep easier if you have decreased range of motion and swelling or deformities in your fingers or hands.
  • Step stools:?These can help eliminate uncomfortable reaching throughout the house. Just make sure you get one with good stability to ensure your safety.
  • Braces or splints:?Wear a brace or splint to support affected joints like the knees, wrists, ankles, and elbows.
  • Disability license plate or placard:?No more waiting for a closer spot, hiking across uneven parking lot surfaces, or negotiating the tight squeeze between parked cars. Ask your doctor if you are eligible for a disability plate or placard.

6. Follow Your Treatment Plan

This may seem obvious, but your prescribed treatment plan may not be as easy to stick with as you might think at the beginning. Many people overexert their joints, continue with?lifestyle habits?that make their condition worse, forget to take their medications, or even stop taking medications altogether.

If you’re having trouble sticking with your psoriatic arthritis treatment, talk to your doctor. Together, you can make adjustments to find a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle and needs.

“Part of my role as a rheumatologist is to help you vet new information and identify which treatments have scientific support — and which do not,” adds Goodman.

RELATED: Managing Psoriatic Arthritis — Should You See a Therapist?

Additional reporting by Nina Wasserman.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.

Sources

  1. Roger-Silva D et al. A Resistance Exercise Program Improves Functional Capacity of Patients With Psoriatic Arthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Clinical Rheumatology. November 28, 2017.
  2. Weight Training 101. Arthritis Foundation.
  3. 8 Natural Therapies for Arthritis Pain. Arthritis Foundation.
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