By Jennifer Bringle
Joint pain can be a really annoying affliction, and it can also be a debilitating condition that interferes with a sufferer’s quality of life. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, recognizing the difference between something that can be treated at home and something requiring an office visit is more important than ever.
Luckily, for those less-severe cases, there are several things patients can do at home to help alleviate joint pain without seeing a doctor. Myron Smith, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Asheville Orthopedics Associates, talks about how to determine if at-home care is sufficient and what treatments work best.
1. Exercise One ongoing way to reduce joint pain is engaging in regular exercise. Light strengthening exercises can strengthen the muscles around the joint, providing better support. “The muscles act as shock absorbers for the joints, so if you can get them toned up you may have less pain,” said Dr. Smith. He notes that the exercise should not cause joint pain, and if it does, discontinue and find moves that don’t cause pain.
2. Over-the-Counter Medications Anti-inflammatory medications like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) can provide relief from joint pain. And for those with a history of diabetes, taking blood thinners or have stomach problems, Dr. Smith suggests Tylenol (acetaminophen). Oral medications aren’t the only option—topical treatments such as Biofreeze and Voltaren, which was recently made available over the counter—can also provide relief. “You don’t have to take them by mouth—you can apply them to the skin, and they can be effective, especially on superficial joints,” said Dr. Smith.
3. Temperature Therapy While applying heat to pain might seem like a good idea, Dr. Smith said cold is actually best for joints. “If you’re having inflamed or swollen joints, you should use cool treatments,” he said. “Heat is good on sore muscles, but it will make inflamed joints worse even if it feels good initially.”
4. Support Sleeves Dr. Smith said some people feel better wearing a joint support sleeve. He cautions that if you wear one, make sure it’s not too tight, which can cause extremities to swell.
5. Talk to a Doctor If you’ve tried multiple at-home treatments and still can’t find relief, Dr. Smith said it may be time to reach out to your physician. “If they have significant swelling, can’t bear weight, have a considerable limp or if they’ve tried all these over-the-counter treatments and they don’t seem to be helping, it’s usually time to come in,” he said. “A lot of people come in when they can’t sleep or can’t do things they enjoy in life.”
For those who do need to come into the office, there are protocols in place, such as socially distanced waiting areas, mask requirements for staff and patients, a pre-appointment screening and thorough exam room cleanings before each patient visit, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to Dr. Smith, the new measures are just another way the clinic works to improve the lives of its patients.
“Our goal at Asheville Orthopedic Associates is to get you back to being able to do the things you like doing that make your life satisfying,” he said. “If you try the at-home remedies, and they’re not working, we’re here to help.”
Myron Smith, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon with Asheville Orthopedics Associates specializing in joint replacement surgery.