Does your joint hurt? Here’s how to relieve arthritic pain

FOR people with arthritis, even the simplest everyday activities such as standing up or bending over can cause immense pain.

While it is widely known that arthritis presents itself more often in older people, believe it or not, people in their 20s can also develop arthritis, with their symptoms only worsening with age.

Arthritis remains a leading cause of pain and disability worldwide, encompassing more than a hundred forms of arthritis and related diseases.

According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults who have arthritis report that it limits their leisure activities and work, while 25% of them say it causes severe pain.

In conjunction with World Arthritis Day, Sunway Medical Centre would like to bring you through the different approaches to relieve your pain – medically and at home.

Which arthritis is which?

There are two main types of arthritis, degenerative and inflammatory, both of which will cause immense pain if left untreated.

  • Degenerative arthritis

Degenerative arthritis (or osteoarthritis) is caused by wear and tear in a joint. It is usually non-symmetrical because it only affects a particular joint on one side of the body.

“When a person overuses their joints, such as their knees or shoulders, they tend to develop degenerative arthritis, which will decrease their range of motion,” explains Sunway Medical Centre consultant rheumatologist Dr Cheah Chee Ken.

Dr Cheah Chee Ken

Symptoms of degenerative arthritis are more concentrated on the joints, with symptoms such as pain, joint stiffness, swelling and redness.

The pain symptom from degenerative arthritis is mechanical in nature, meaning it is worse on movement and relieved with rest; this means those with this condition will have difficulty performing everyday tasks.

  • Inflammatory arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis describes a group of joint diseases with inflammatory joint pain as the main feature. Features of inflammatory joint pain include pain at rest, marked early morning joint stiffness and joint swelling with occasional skin redness.

It can be caused by different conditions, ranging from acute injury, infections or overactive immune systems, which attack the joints (also known as autoimmune diseases).

In particular cases of immune-mediated arthritis, the immune response does not know how to differentiate itself from foreign substances, leading to ongoing inflammation and subsequently permanent joint damage.

Unlike degenerative arthritis, inflammatory arthritis may affect multiple joints simultaneously and symmetrically. Systemic symptoms such as fatigue are common.

Taking the burden off your joints

The treatment principle for arthritis involves identifying the correct diagnosis; arresting inflammation (as prolonged inflammations lead to structural damage); controlling pain and symptoms; and preserving joint functions and maintaining the quality of life for appropriate management to be tailored accordingly.

Certain conditions require simple steps such as exercises and physiotherapies, while in some cases, surgery may be required.

As for various types of inflammatory arthritis, treatment mainly consists of medical therapy. Therefore, it is advised to seek consultation from a healthcare provider.

The most common form of arthritis is still degenerative arthritis. Below are some of the general measures aiming to address different areas of degenerative arthritis:

Hip arthritis

  • Weight management
    • Being overweight or obese puts extra weight and strain on joints. It will also contribute to inflammation due to a higher body mass index (BMI).
    • Kickstart an exercise programme such as walking or aerobics. Ensure that it is a low-impact activity to lessen the strain on joints.
    • Maintain a healthy diet. Specific changes in diet will show the benefits of reducing inflammation and stress on joints. For example, the addition of fish oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D3 has modestly improved arthritis pain and joint swelling.
  • Surgery
    • If exercise or a change in lifestyle no longer works, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. Surgery options include hip resurfacing and hip replacement.
    • Hip resurfacing – The surgeon trims away damaged bone and cartilage and replaces them with a metal stem (inserted down into the thigh bone), which makes an artificial surface.
    • Hip replacement – The surgeon removes the damaged sections of the hip joint and replaces them with an artificial joint.
  • Natural therapy
    • Acupuncture
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
    • Application of heat pads
    • Topical ointments

Hand arthritis

  • Hand exercises
    • Moving and exercising the affected joints can increase hand strength and improve finger and thumb mobility.
    • The key to each exercise is to avoid putting too much stress on the area.
    • Alternatively, you may consult a hand therapist to prescribe exercises best suited for your hand.
  • Splinting/braces
    • The main goal of braces is to support and protect the affected joint. Splints or braces will reduce strain and promote proper joint alignment.
    • It is not advisable to wear it long-term as it will weaken your muscles.
  • Surgery
    • Joint fusion – This surgery will limit your flexibility and movement because it uses a plate and screws to keep the bones of your joint together. On the bright side, you’ll have a more stable and pain-free joint.
    • Tendon transfer – Inflammatory arthritis can cause tendons to rupture. If this happens, transferring a healthy tendon can restore your hand function.

Knee arthritis

  • Activity modification
    • “Even after surgery, past sports knee injuries can be lingering, causing damage to both cartilage and bone due to the way a person moves their knee,” Dr Cheah shared.
    • Avoid movements such as lunges or squats that could strain joints.
    • Remaining physically active is key to managing symptoms and strengthening the knee.
  • Walking aids
    • Specialists will recommend using assistive devices like canes or walkers to provide support.
    • Canes can reduce the weight bearing for the arthritic joint, thereby reducing pain.
  • Surgery
    • Knee replacement – The goal is to resurface the damaged knee joint and relieve the pain. Metal and plastic parts are used to cap the ends of the bones that form the knee joint, along with the kneecap.
    • Knee osteotomy – The surgery re-aligns the joint to shift more pressure onto the better side of the knee joint and reduce wear and tear on the bad side. This surgery can postpone the need for total knee replacement surgery for up to 10 years.
    • Cartilage restoration – Bone marrow stimulation. This surgery is to stimulate cartilage growth by making precise microfractures in the surrounding bone. – Oct 22, 2022


Sunway Medical Centre is a leading private tertiary medical centre in Malaysia, offering a comprehensive range of medical services, which include facilities and advanced medical technologies for outpatient and inpatient speciality care, health and wellness programmes and 24-hour emergency services.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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