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Pain Management: What Works?

Like many of you out there, I have some degree of pain every single day. The last time I had a completely pain-free day was sometime in early 1997, I’d say. That’s quite a long time, and it’s a heavy burden to bear when there seems to be no end in sight. While I loathe the inconvenience and energy-sapper of scheduling/remembering/keeping several appointments, usually monthly, I feel that chronic, debilitating pain is too big a part of my life to not try to improve.

So how do I make this pain better? My major “trouble joints” are my feet and ankles, and especially the right foot and ankle. Staying off my feet all day isn’t really an option, because I need to work and, you know, walk. Painkillers? I’ve tried pain medications in the past (Vicodin/hydrocodone) and the risks of taking opioids on a daily basis are too great, I feel, to be a part of my treatment plan. My mother has also been kind of flipping out over the death of Prince recently and is paranoid I’ll turn into an addict–but that’s another story.

I’ve tried acupuncture several times for extended periods which helped my chronic headaches but didn’t do much for my RA pain and swelling. Meditation? People keep recommending that I do this, which I don’t feel that enthusiastic about, especially when I feel like I have 50 squirrels racing around on wheels in my head. I’m willing to give it a try, but I honestly don’t think it can help that much when you feel like you have several burning knives lodged into your joints. I’m relaxed…the pain is leaving my body…I don’t feel the knives anymore…What? Shut up, YES I DO!

The only thing that seems to help my foot and ankle pain (and swelling) is strapping cumbersome, uncomfortably cold ice packs around my ankles with bandage wraps. These ugly, homemade remedies work pretty well until the cold packs and my joint numbness wears off. If I lived next to a freezer all day, every day, that would be great (not really!). But seriously, trying to live my life with giant blue “icees” attached to my body isn’t ideal.

Running out of options, that brings me back to trying out a pain management clinic again. In May I returned to a pain clinic where I had previously received treatment about two years ago. The reason I stopped going there was mainly due to health insurance issues. After very briefly trying out a different pain clinic this past Fall (affiliated with the University of Minnesota), I decided the first pain clinic was a better fit for me. My current clinic establishes a pain management “team” for each patient, requiring patients to see a doctor, psychologist, and a physical therapist. The University clinic did not offer all of these treatment options, except for physician appointments.

Now I’m back trying to juggle a bunch of appointments at the pain clinic, which isn’t easy. Driving back and forth more than once a week to this one clinic becomes exhausting, which probably doesn’t help my pain. How ironic. Can the clinic just send a taxi or a helicopter to pick me up and bring me home, or something?

Since I’m just getting back into the swing of things, I can’t tell yet if any of these appointments are helping or if the inconvenience to my schedule and life is worth it. Are pain management clinics worth it? I’m not sure. So far my experience at two of them hasn’t been an emphatic 100% “yes.” I’m hoping this time around that my physical therapy treatment will noticeably help my headaches, but I’ve become realistic to the limitations therapy has regarding my ankles. I’ve had physical therapy so many times on those ankles, I can’t even count or remember anymore.

What do you, my fellow RA and pain sufferers, think about pain management clinics? Helpful? Hurtful? Somewhere in-between? The pain in my joints is strong and often nearly unbearable, however having to run to so many appointments quickly becomes a big pain in my you-know-where.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • shizzerlizzy
    9 months ago

    I see the comment below are from 3 years ago, is this still an active sting?

    I have RA. Ive found that after a while, it’s hard to know what is actually causing my chronic pain as I have multiple issues. I’m on high doses of narcotics & have been for 15+ years.

    I’m having a spinal cord Stimulator implanted soon & ketamine infusions after that. I’m very nervous & would appreciate any feedback from you.

    Thank you, Shirley

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    9 months ago

    Hi Shirley, Thanks for reaching out. You may have better luck with our community seeing and responding if you post on our Facebook page as there is more frequent traffic there. In addition to discussing the pros, cons and expected recovery of spinal surgery with your doctor, this article may be helpful: We’re here and you have the support of our community. Wishing you the best outcome. Kelly, Team Member

  • mcadwell
    2 years ago

    Does anyone know of anything that is stronger than Sore-No-More? That no longer gets hot enough to help but it helped for a long time. Bio-freeze didn’t do anything for me at all.

  • Patricia Darstein
    3 years ago

    I have to say you are very lucky that pain management will even assist you. When I went they told me to see my Rheumatologist for pain help. Nice huh? I am like you, always have some amount of pain, NEVER totally pain free day and it stinks. What helps? I get great relief from Lortabs but I try only taking them when I’m out of options. What options? Well, it tends to be a balance of rest and movement. I know sitting on the couch never helps, neither does intense/moderate exercise…but as bad as my feet can hurt and wrist/hands & back, taking a ride on my bike helps, swimming helps ALOT! Another help is a gel called Bio-Freeze (though temporary, it really relieves!) I also get comfort from a warm (not HOT), hot tub. Just soaking feels so good to me. Best of luck. I believe everyone of is different and different things work for different people. You just have to find you niche’. Experiment with different things.

  • Leanah
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Angela. My most active pain areas are my left foot and ankle, so I really identify with your post. What I have found to work best for the “hot knife stabs” that occur all too frequently – even as I am relaxing with my legs elevated – is a WARM compress. I have a “bed buddy” that my SIL made, a smallish pillow filled with beans and rice, that I heat in the microwave. For me, heat helps more than cold.

    Another pain management tool I use is a rub that I bought on the recommendation of someone else: Outback Pain Relief – Natural Topical Oil. It stinks and it’s oily but IT WORKS. Gives me several hours of relief.

    Here’s to lessened ankle pain for the both of us.

  • Grannie55
    3 years ago

    A “pain journal” was helpful to me. It has had an extra benefit of being able to look back and see how far I have come with getting off meds and coping in general. My doctor finds it helpful too for looking for patterns – did I flare after eating something I usually don’t eat, hormonal patterns, exercise or lack of, etc. I initially was writing daily and now I don’t have much need – maybe monthly or less. Music with headphones is also a “great escape” for me. Pain is diagnostic so I prefer to live on the edge so to speak. At first, I was so medicated that I didn’t feel a UTI and the infection became dangerous. Hope this might help someone at least a little bit. We are all different and pain management is so individual – a part of the journey.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Thank you for writing Grannie55. These are some great tips. This article from the editorial team about dealing with pain mentions keeping a pain journal: So glad to hear that you have found a plan that is working for you.

    Best, Richard ( Team)

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