Joint and muscle pain 

The old-fashioned treatment for generalised joint & muscle pain, also known as chronic pain, was bed rest for weeks or months on end. We now know this is the worst possible approach. Exercise and continuing to work are key to recovery.

Resting all day may not always be the best solutions if you have a painful condition like back pain.

Lying in bed for long periods may actually make the pain last longer, because inactivity makes you stiffen up, your muscles and bones get weaker, you don't sleep well, you can become lonely and depressed, and the pain feels worse. You'll also find that it becomes harder and harder to get going again.

  • General joint and muscle pain

    The old-fashioned treatment for generalised joint & muscle pain, also known as chronic pain, was bed rest for weeks or months on end. We now know this is the worst possible approach. Exercise and continuing to work are key to recovery.

    Resting all day may not always be the best solutions if you have a painful condition like back pain.

    Lying in bed for long periods may actually make the pain last longer, because inactivity makes you stiffen up, your muscles and bones get weaker, you don't sleep well, you become lonely and depressed, and the pain feels worse. You'll also find that it becomes harder and harder to get going again.

  • Health and wellbeing

    A better approach to reducing pain is a combination of:

  • Exercise to beat pain

    Choose an exercise that won't put too much strain on yourself. Good options include:

    • walking
    • swimming
    • exercise bike
    • dance/yoga/pilates
    • most daily activities and hobbies

    Activity and stretching needs to become part of your lifestyle so you routinely do exercise little and often.

    Try to be active every day, instead of only on the good days when you're not in so much pain. This may reduce the number of bad days you have and help you feel more in control.

    But try and avoid overdoing it on good days and then paying for this by having more and more bad days.

    Try these flexibility exercises and sitting exercises that you can do at home.

    Read the NHS Choices beginner's guide to swimming and beginner's guide to dancing.

  • Going to work despite the pain

    It's important to try to stay in work even though you're in pain. Research shows that people become less active and more depressed when they don't work.

    Being at work will distract you from the pain and won't make your pain worse.

    Talk to your supervisor or boss about the parts of your job that may be difficult to begin with, but stress that you want to be at work.

    If you have to stay off work for a while, try to get back as soon as possible.

    If you've been off work for four to six weeks, plan with your doctor, therapist or employer how and when you can return.

    You could go back to work gradually. For instance, you might start with one day a week and gradually increase the time you spend at work.

    You could also agree changes to your job or pattern of work, if it helps – a health and safety rep or occupational health department may be useful here.

  • Physical therapy for pain

    Pain experts often recommend physical therapy.This helps you to move better, relieves your pain, and makes daily tasks and activities, such as walking, going up stairs, or getting in and out of bed, easier.

    Physical therapy for persistent pain can involve pain education, exercises and learning other self – management skills. It is usually delivered by a physiotherapist who can give you advice on the right type of exercise and activity. You should begin to feel the benefits after a few sessions.

    Occupational therapists can support you with environmental changes that can help you remain in work and function better at home.

    Your GP can also refer you for exercise on referral classes, and some centres have specific classes for low back pain.

  • Painkillers for long-term pain

    It's safe to use over-the-counter painkillers to reduce your pain so you can be more active. But it's important to use painkillers carefully, as they have side effects.

    Paracetamol is the simplest and safest painkiller. You could also try anti-inflammatory tablets like ibuprofen, as long as you don't have a condition (like a stomach ulcer) that prevents you from using them.

    It's important to take painkillers at the recommended dose and to take them regularly every four to six hours, preferably to overcome a flare-up of your pain or to help get you through an impending activity.

    Don't wait until your pain is severe before you start taking painkillers, as they won't work as well.

    If a two-week course of over-the-counter painkillers doesn't work, ask for help from your GP or pharmacist.

  • Online help for pain

    There's a lot of online information if you're living with pain.

    General pain websites

    Self help tips

    The Pain Toolkit is a collection of helpful tips and strategies for persistent pain put together by a fellow sufferer:

    Meditation for pain

    This 20 minute guided meditation course from Meditainment is easy-to-follow, free and proven to help people cope with chronic pain. 

    It's part of the Pathway through Pain online course which is provided by the NHS in some areas for people with persistent pain. Ask your GP or pain specialist how to access the course.

  • Arthritis

  • Types of arthritis

    The two most common types of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis

    Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting around 8 million people.

    It most often develops in adults who are in their late 40s or older. It's also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition. However, it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or be associated with other joint-related conditions, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

    Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.

    Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes.

    Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.

    The most commonly affected joints are those in the:

    • hands
    • spine
    • knees
    • hips

    Further information and support:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

    In the UK, rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 people. It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.

    Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body's immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling. 

    The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint's shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down.

    People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body. 

  • Other types of arthritis and related conditions

    • Ankylosing spondylitis – a long-term inflammatory condition that mainly affects the bones, muscles and ligaments of the spine, leading to stiffness and joints fusing together. Other problems can include the swelling of tendons, eyes and large joints.
    • Cervical spondylosis – also known as degenerative osteoarthritis, cervical spondylitis affects the joints and bones in the neck, which can lead to pain and stiffness.
    • Fibromyalgia – causes pain in the body's muscles, ligaments and tendons.
    • Lupus – an autoimmune condition that can affect many different organs and the body's tissues.
    • Gout – a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. This can be left in joints (usually affecting the big toe) but can develop in any joint. It causes intense pain, redness and swelling.
    • Psoriatic arthritis – an inflammatory joint condition that can affect people with psoriasis.
    • Enteropathic arthritis – a form of chronic, inflammatory arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the two best-known types being ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. About one in five people with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis will develop enteropathic arthritis. The most common areas affected by inflammation are the peripheral (limb) joints and the spine.
    • Reactive arthritis – this can cause inflammation of the joints, eyes and urethra (the tube that urine passes through). It develops shortly after an infection of the bowel, genital tract or, less frequently, after a throat infection.
    • Secondary arthritis – a type of arthritis that can develop after a joint injury and sometimes occurs many years afterwards.
    • Polymyalgia rheumatica – a condition that almost always affects people over 50 years of age, where the immune system causes muscle pain and stiffness, usually across the shoulders and tops of the legs. It can also cause joint inflammation.
  • Symptoms of arthritis

    The symptoms of arthritis you experience will vary depending on the type you have.

    This is why it's important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:

    • joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
    • inflammation in and around the joints
    • restricted movement of the joints
    • warm, red skin over the affected joint
    • weakness and muscle wasting
  • Treating arthritis

    There's no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow down the condition.

    For osteoarthritis, medications are often prescribed, including:

    In severe cases, the following surgical procedures may be recommended:

    • arthroplasty (joint replacement)
    • arthrodesis (joint fusion)
    • osteotomy (where a bone is cut and re-aligned)

    Read more about how osteoarthritis is treated.

    Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis aims to slow down the condition's progress and minimise joint inflammation or swelling. This is to try and prevent damage to the joints. Recommended treatments include:

    • analgesics (painkillers)
    • disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – a combination of treatments is often recommended
    • physiotherapy 
    • regular exercise 

    Read more about how rheumatoid arthritis is treated.

  • Further information and support