Hot and Cold Therapies
Using heating pads or ice packs to treat joint pain can be an easy and inexpensive way to lessen psoriatic arthritis pain when you’re at home or at work.
“For inflammatory joint pain, methods include use of topical ice acutely, then warmth,” says Reynold Karr, MD, a rheumatologist and clinical professor of allergy and infectious diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.
Heat therapies are especially helpful for stiff joints. When heat is applied to muscles and joints, whether through a heating pad or a hot bath, it increases circulation throughout your body, allowing blood to flow more freely to your joints, and may loosen them up.
Cold treatments, such as an ice pack or ice bath, are best for acute pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Cold temperatures constrict blood vessels and can help dull nerve sensations and reduce swelling. In a pinch, you can use a bag of frozen vegetables on an aching hand or foot.
Keeping your joints loose and moving can ease chronic joint pain over the long term, but it can also help when pain flares up. If pain strikes, try going for a walk or stretching at your desk. Having a consistent exercise routine can help control chronic joint pain overall.
Depending on the severity and location of the disease, some types of exercise may not be an option. If toe or ankle pain is too severe for a run or long walk, aerobic exercises in a swimming pool can ease pain, while the buoyancy of the water spares you excess stress or pressure on joints.
“Hand activities that require forceful, concerted pinching and gripping tend to be those that can produce a flare-up of pain in individuals with psoriatic arthritis or arthritis in general,” says Arthur Nitz, PhD, professor of physical therapy at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences in Lexington.
“Prolonged walking, especially on uneven ground, can be aggravating for foot problems, especially when improper shoe wear occurs,” says Dr. Nitz. “Individuals with known foot problems from arthritis should be evaluated for proper shoe wear, and consideration should be given to the possible benefit afforded by in-shoe orthotics.”
Exercise helps keep weight under control, which relieves the stress on joints that can come from being overweight. A study published in June 2014 in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that psoriatic arthritis patients had significantly reduced symptoms when they lost more than 10 percent of their body weight.
Physical activity also improves muscle strength, increases cardiovascular function, and improves overall health.
Stress can be a vicious cycle for psoriatic arthritis patients: A stressful situation can trigger a psoriatic arthritis flare, and symptom flares can be a source of stress themselves. Learning how to manage your stress can be effective in minimizing flares.
According to a study published in October 2015 in the journal Dermatology Research and Practice, stress can worsen the severity of psoriatic disease. “Being in a stressed-out state can make you more sensitive to pain,” says Alexis Ogdie-Beatty, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Some people find stress relief in yoga or other mindfulness techniques. Something as simple as taking a walk or enjoying hobbies like painting and reading can help. Having a support group you can count on to help you manage your condition is invaluable, says Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, a rheumatologist and the director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Treatment Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
An Ergonomic Workplace
If you have a job, it’s important that your workplace doesn’t worsen the condition or aggravate symptoms. People who work long hours at a desk are especially at risk for stiff and painful finger and toe joints.
“One of the better ways to avoid serious symptom aggravation through the course of the day is to take regular, scheduled stretch breaks when possible,” says Nitz. “Have your computer timed to give a ‘beep’ or some such signal to remind you of the need to stop, take a few minutes to stretch, and then resume your work activities.”
Talk to your doctor and employer about accommodations that could make your workplace more ergonomically comfortable.
Ergonomics refers to making the workplace as safe and efficient as possible, to ensure the most productivity out of employees. Everything from chair height and desk posture to the type of mouse and keyboard that you use could be causing you pain.
The National Psoriasis Foundation suggests these workplace adjustments:
- Adjust your keyboard so your wrists and fingers aren’t bent at awkward angles.
- Keep your computer monitor about 18 to 22 inches away from your face. Adjust the height so the top part of the screen is at eye level. That way you’re not slouching or craning your neck.
- Get a desk chair that helps maintain proper posture.