Though Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints, it’s a disease of the immune system, which normally protects us from infection by attacking viruses and bacteria. For reasons no one fully understands, RA causes the immune system to go awry and mistakenly attack healthy cells such as the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain and inflammation. Over time this can wear away the cartilage and erode bone, causing a lack of function and mobility. In most people, the inflammation usually becomes systemic, affecting organs such as the skin, heart and lungs.

RA most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. Joint involvement is usually symmetrical, meaning if one joint is affected the same joint on the opposite side of the body is involved as well.

Treatments include

  • Hot and cold treatments. Usually applied directly to the pain site; heat may be more useful for chronic pain, and cold packs provide relief from acute pain. If you find heat works for you, try these warming techniques.
  • Exercise. Keeping your joints and muscles moving helps improve your general fitness level and can decrease pain.
  • Relaxation techniques. You can train your muscles to relax and your thoughts to slow down by using these techniques, which include deep breathing, guided imagery and visualization, among others.
  • Massage. Done properly, the method can relax your muscles, help you let go of tension and provide some arthritis pain relief.
  • Electrical stimulation. Also called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), the therapy is delivered through a small device that sends a painless electrical current to large nerve fibers, generating heat that relieves stiffness and pain. The current also stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. TENS is usually prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist, so consult your health-care provider about this therapy for rheumatoid arthritis pain relief.