Arthritis-related severe joint pain affects adults of all ages, both sexes, and all races and ethnicities.

Most of what we know about severe joint pain is for adults. The age-standardized prevalence of severe joint pain among adults with arthritis varies by state, ranging from 20% in Utah to 46% in Mississippi. From 2002 to 2014 in the United States, severe joint pain prevalence among adults with arthritis was:

— Higher among women (29.2%) than men (22.7%).

— Highest among adults aged 45 to 64 years (30.7%).

— Prevalence was the same for adults aged 18 to 44 years (24.9%) and adults aged 65 years or older (24.3%).

— Highest among non-Hispanic Blacks (42.3%), followed by Hispanics (35.8%), and non-Hispanic whites (23.1%).

Severe joint pain is more common among adults with arthritis who also have other chronic conditions including diabetes (40.9%), heart disease (34.1%), and obesity (31.7%), and among adults with a disability (45.6%). More than half (56.3%) of adults with arthritis and serious psychological distress reported having severe joint pain.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports programs for people with arthritis so they can work and do other daily activities, have less pain, manage their own care, and prevent or delay disability.

The combined efforts and partnerships of CDC’s funded programs have made proven arthritis-appropriate self-management education workshops and physical activity intervention programs available to more than 180,000 adults in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and one territory — American Samoa.

Arthritis and Joint Pain Management

Many professional organizations have guidelines for managing arthritis pain. A common theme across guidelines is that pain management strategies should be flexible, include options that do not involve medication, and be tailored to meet the needs of the patient.

Such guidelines suggest the following for managing arthritis symptoms such as pain:

— Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil® or Motrin®) and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

— Physical activity/exercise or community-based physical activity programs.

— Exercise therapy, including physical therapy.

— Self-management education workshops.

— Weight loss, if overweight or obese.

— Cognitive behavioral therapy—a psychological, goal-directed approach in which patients learn how to modify physical, behavioral, and emotional triggers of pain and stress.

Emerging evidence suggests that these are safer and more effective treatments for managing long-term arthritis pain than opioids.

A recent study of individuals with knee and hip osteoarthritis, the most common types of arthritis, found that after one year, people who took over-the-counter medications had greater reductions in pain severity than people who took opioids.

Arthritis Pain Management without Medications

There are multiple ways for adults with arthritis to reduce their pain without using medications.

Regular physical activity can help relieve adult arthritis pain as effectively as over-the counter medications. Physical activity has many additional benefits, including improved physical function and mood and reduced anxiety.

Walking, biking, swimming, and other water activities (e.g., water aerobics, aqua jogging) are all effective ways to ease arthritis pain and are safe for most adults.

Community-based physical activity programs teach people how to be physically active safely and are a good option for people who are concerned about making their joint pain or arthritis worse. Physical activity programs can result in clinically important improvements in pain and function.

CDC recommends several community-based physical activity programs that are proven to improve the quality of life of adults with arthritis. Local programs are available at YMCAs, parks, and recreation or community centers across the country.