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Understanding Arthritis Pain

The pain of arthritis may come from different sources. These may include inflammation of the synovial membrane (tissue that lines the joints), the tendons, or the ligaments; muscle strain; and fatigue. A combination of these factors contributes to the intensity of the pain.
Arthritis pain varies greatly from person to person for reasons that healthcare providers do not yet understand completely. Some factors that contribute to the pain include:
  • Swelling within the joint
  • The amount of heat or redness present
  • Damage that has occurred within the joint.
Also, because activities affect pain differently, some patients note pain in their joints after first getting out of bed in the morning, while others develop pain after prolonged use of the joint.
Each individual has a different threshold and tolerance for pain, often affected by both physical and emotional factors. These factors can include depression, anxiety, and even hypersensitivity at the affected sites due to inflammation and tissue injury. This increased sensitivity appears to affect the amount of pain perceived by the individual. Social support networks can make an important contribution to pain management.

How Is Arthritis Pain Measured?

The pain of arthritis is a private, unique experience that cannot be seen. The most common way to measure arthritis pain is for the doctor to ask you about your difficulties. For example, the doctor may ask you to describe the level of pain you feel on a scale of 1 to 10. You may use words like aching, burning, stinging, or throbbing. These words will give the doctor a clearer picture of the pain you are experiencing.
Since doctors rely on your description of pain to help determine your treatment for arthritis, you may want to keep a pain diary to record your pain sensations. You can begin a week or two before your visit to the doctor. On a daily basis, write down the situations that cause or alter the intensity of your pain, the sensations and severity of your pain, and your reactions to the pain. For example: "On Monday night, sharp pains in my knees produced by housework interfered with my sleep; on Tuesday morning, because of the pain, I had a hard time getting out of bed. However, I coped with the pain by taking my medication and applying ice to my knees." The diary will give the doctor some insight into your pain and may play a critical role in the management of your disease.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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