12 Ways to Get Relief From Psoriatic Arthritis Painby Amy Marturana Winderl Health Writer
“Sore” and “psoriatic arthritis” may seem like synonyms when you’ve got this health condition. And, unfortunate truth, for some with PsA, the joint ache can be severe. But whether this is you or you have milder symptoms, you don’t have to just accept soreness as your everyday reality. Medication certainly helps, though it’s not the only solution. There are a number of natural ways to help minimize psoriatic arthritis pain and help soothe hurting joints. Here, top experts share their best advice.
Strength Train to Build and Maintain Muscle
I’ve got arthritis—and you want me to whaaa? It might seem like lifting weights would just cause more pain, but it can help reduce joint soreness over the long term. “The stronger your muscles are, the less wear on your joints,” says Karmela Kim Chan, M.D., a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Strong muscles take some of the pressure off the joints and help keep your body balanced, allowing you to move throughout daily activities comfortably and with a lower risk of injury. Aim for two to three sessions per week. A personal trainer can help you learn proper form and how to modify any exercises that hurt.
Stay Active on Your 'Off' Days, Too
Exercise boosts confidence, which can be important for many people with PsA, since having the condition means you also have psoriasis—whose red, scaly skin patches can take a toll on self-esteem, Dr. Chan says. Plus, exercise can help mitigate the increased risk of cardiovascular disease that comes with psoriatic arthritis, adds Ana-Maria Orbai, M.D., M.H.S., director of the Psoriatic Arthritis Program at Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. On the days you’re not strength training—go for a walk or bike ride, take a yoga class, or do whatever moderate exercise feels good to you. Take it easy if a joint is inflamed.
Ah, bed. So comfy, so helpful. Particularly in the case of PsA: “Poor sleep can increase stress and aggravate symptoms,” says Anand A. Kumthekar, M.D., a rheumatologist at Montefiore Medical Center and assistant professor of rheumatology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Hence, being well-rested = fewer flares. If pain is keeping you up at night, Dr. Chan says some sleep aids can help, including both OTC remedies like melatonin and prescription drugs. Talk with your doctor about a treatment that’s safe for you.
Stress can trigger flare-ups, Dr. Chan says, so reducing it is a big self-care component for people with psoriatic arthritis. Still… Easier said than done. “It’s hard to tell a mother of five that she needs to manage her stress,” Dr. Chan says. Bad sleep can increase stress, Dr. Kumthekar adds, so addressing that can consequently help decrease stress. For other ways to keep calm, try these nine tips.
Get Regular Massages
A massage can also help melt away stress—and PsA discomfort. “A lot of patients get relief from regular massage therapy,” Dr. Chan says. Just be sure to tell your massage therapist that you have psoriasis and ask to see what oils or lotions they plan to use. Dermatologists recommend people with sensitive skin, including those with psoriasis, avoid products with any fragrance (look for “fragrance-free” on the bottle), dyes, essential oils, or preservatives like parabens or methylisothiazolinone.
Manage Your Weight
One thing Dr. Orbai recommends to patients starting therapy for psoriatic arthritis is to reach and maintain a healthy body weight. “There are a few trials showing if people lose weight, their medications will work much better and they will be able to achieve a more profound state of disease remission,” she says. The exact reason isn’t known, but experts believe excess fat cells promote inflammation in the body—the cause of PsA. Also, carrying excess weight puts more strain on the musculoskeletal system, and that may make arthritic symptoms worse.
Clean Up Your Diet
No shocker here, but eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of nutrient-rich whole foods promotes overall good health and will help you maintain a healthy weight. Consider the Mediterranean diet, Dr. Orbai suggests. It’s typically recommended for its heart-healthy benefits, she says, which is especially important since people with PsA are at increased risk of heart disease. It’s also more of a “way of eating” than a restrictive diet, so it’s more sustainable. For any specific concerns or a more individualized plan, ask your doctor to recommend a dietician.
If You Smoke, Quit
It pretty much goes without saying—but we’ll say it anyway—that smoking is not good for you. But if general health risks aren’t enough to convince you, know that ending your tobacco relationship may be helpful for controlling the symptoms of PsA: Smoking cigarettes has been associated with the onset of psoriasis, and it may also decrease the effectiveness of PsA medications, says Dr. Kumthekar.
Try Warm Wax Therapy
“Warmth is very, very comforting for patients,” says Dr. Chan. “For example, if someone has arthritis in their hands, I tell them to buy a paraffin bath to soak their hands in.” You can also try applying a heating pad to the affected joint to loosen it up and find some relief. Of course, it’s important to run this (or any treatment) by your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for whatever condition your skin and joints are in at the time.
Take a Hot Bath
Soaking in warm water can help reduce inflammation and increase circulation to stiff joints, per The Arthritis Foundation. Try starting your day with a warm bath, or dip into the tub for 20 minutes whenever your joints are feeling particularly achy. Just make sure it’s not too hot—keep the water temp between 92 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent your body temperature from getting too high. If you have any heart issues, talk with your doctor first to make sure soaking in hot water is safe for you.
Apply a Cold Compress
While heat is great for loosening up stiff joints, “cold is useful when something is acutely inflamed,” says Dr. Chan. Holding a cold pack to such an area restricts blood vessels and slows down circulation, which reduces swelling. It can also temporarily dull pain and discomfort. The Arthritis Foundation suggests using store-bought gel cold packs or wrapping a bag of ice or frozen vegetables in a towel to protect the skin; keep it in for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
“I’m a big fan of acupuncture,” says Dr. Chan. While there are no clinical studies that look at acupuncture for psoriatic arthritis soreness in particular, research suggests that it can be useful for relieving chronic pain. And some patients do report that it works for them. “It’s very low-risk,” Dr. Chan says, “so why not try it if it can give a patient a better quality of life?”