Arthritis - managing your pain

By Arthritis New Zealand

Living with pain can be the hardest part of living with arthritis, says Arthritis New Zealand CEO Sandra Kirby.

For some forms of arthritis, such as fibromyalgia, the cause of the pain is not often well understood.

There are 578,000 New Zealanders living with a diagnosis of arthritis. That’s one in six of the adult population but one in two of those is over 75 years of age.

We know that arthritis-related pain causes significant difficulties for many people who find that it impacts on their ability conduct everyday activities and to live life as fully as possible.

Sleeping at night becomes a challenge and for many they hide their pain from family and friends.

Senior man pushing a wheelbarrow in the garden

There is the thought that you just have to live with that pain but that is not true, says Ms Kirby.

It’s important that those with arthritis pain seek advice from their GP, pharmacist or an arthritis educator.

Pain management programmes, such as those held by Arthritis New Zealand tend to work well for older people.

There is a focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot do.  

Pain may limit some of the things you do, but it doesn't have to control your life.

You can learn ways to manage your pain. You may have to try different self-management techniques until you find what works best for you.

Techniques to try

The key points of pain management are:

  • Prevent pain from building, this means taking pain medications as prescribed and not just when the pain is bad. Medications play an important role but the elderly are more likely to experience side effects and need to be carefully monitored.
  • Heat such as with wheat packs or a warm bath relaxes your muscles and stimulates blood circulation. In contrast a cold pack can numb the painful area and reduces swelling.
  • Understand that there will be good days and bad days so have a plan for managing on the bad days:
    • Learn some relaxation techniques - these are very useful in breaking the pain cycle. They might include deep breathing and visualisation (mental pictures) which can help you reduce stress and muscle tension.
    • These techniques need to be practised and you may have to try several methods before you find one that works for you.
  • Distraction may help by focusing your attention on something like exercising, reading or listening to music to take your mind away from your pain.
  • We know that regular exercise can help reduce pain. It also keeps your joints moving, strengthens muscles to support your joints, reduces stress and improves sleep.
    • Choose a type of exercise that you enjoy.
    • Remember to build up slowly, a few minutes at a time, so that you give your body a good experience of doing exercise.
  • Pace yourself, plan ahead and decide on your priorities to avoid becoming too tired. Avoid or break up repetitive movements. Aids and gadgets may help to make tasks easier and preserve your energy.

Editor's note: Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the Office for Seniors

More information

Ask for help when you need it.

There is a great deal of information on the Arthritis New Zealand website:

or you can call the helpline 0800 663 463.