“This suggests a pressing need for providers to talk with their patients about how to manage their joint pain, and what interactions and long-term risks might arise if they use medications to do so,” Wallace said.
Guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology for osteoarthritis and the more rare rheumatoid arthritis seek to reduce the risk that can happen with long-term use or for those taking multiple medications that can affect patients’ stomach, liver, blood pressure, blood sugar, mood or sleep.
The guidelines for osteoarthritis, which can be caused by wear and tear, emphasize weight loss, exercise, self-management programs with arthritis educators, tai chi, yoga, braces, splints and kinesiotaping, acupuncture or acupressure, cognitive behavioral therapy and applying heat, cold or topical pain relievers on aching joints.
For medication, the guidelines focus on short-term use of over-the-counter medications in low doses, along with steroid joint injections in appropriate patients. They recommend against most supplements, opioids and other prescription drugs.
About 64% of survey respondents who have joint pain do use exercise and 24% have had physical therapy. Far fewer used non-drug options such as braces.
Certain groups of older adults appear to be more likely to experience worse joint pain, said poll director Dr. Preeti Malani, a Michigan Medicine physician with training in infectious diseases and geriatrics.
“Those who say their overall health is fair or poor were twice as likely to say they have moderate or severe joint pain as those in better health. The difference was nearly as great between those who say their mental health is fair or poor than those who reported better mental health,” she said in a Michigan Medicine news release.
“And older adults with fair or poor physical or mental health were much more likely to agree with the statement that there’s nothing that someone with joint pain can do to ease their symptoms, which we now know to be untrue,” Malani said. “Health providers need to raise the topic of joint pain with their older patients, and help them make a plan for care that might work for them.”