Scientists expect that 20% of adults will have arthritis by 2030 in Europe and North America. Joint pain at night while sleeping can be a nightmare. That applies whether your pain is the result of arthritis, a sprain or a psychological issue. It can affect many areas of the body, not limited to the back, hips, knees, neck, shoulders, and wrists.
It’s vital that we find pain relief that’s effective and has limited side effects. Pharmaceutical companies are continually discovering new forms of pain relief and medication. However, as you already know, these medications almost always cause complications.
In this guide, we’ve looked closely at the most effective non-natural pain relief methods. These include both pharmaceutical and physical remedies. So, let’s take a closer look at the different options.
Why is Joint Pain Worse at Night?
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why is Joint Pain Worse at Night?
- 2 How to Reduce Joint Pain While Sleeping
- 2.1 1) Painkillers
- 2.2 2) Other Opioids
- 2.3 3) Surgery
- 2.4 4) Psychological Help
- 2.5 5) Capsaicin Creams
- 2.6 6) Herbal Medicine
- 2.7 7) Strengthening and Aerobic Exercise
- 2.8 8) Acupuncture
- 2.9 9) Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- 2.10 10) Omega-3 Fish Oils
People with arthritis commonly report that their pain becomes worse at night. There are many reasons why this might be the case:
- Late at night, with nothing to distract you, pain can seem more severe.
- After a long and stressful day, your pain can ‘flare up’ and become worse.
- Temperature changes can make your pain seem worse. Your pain seems worse because your body is sensing that the room is cooler.
- Being kept up late can be a vicious cycle. Chronic tiredness can elevate levels of chemicals which increase inflammation.
How to Reduce Joint Pain While Sleeping
It’s little wonder that people want to relieve their pain. Fortunately, there are both pharmaceutical and natural solutions available.
Codeine and acetaminophen are two pain relief medications commonly prescribed by doctors, both here in the U.S. and worldwide. Each is used to treat arthritis, other kinds of joint pain, and pain generally. If you didn’t know, acetaminophen is the primary ingredient in Tylenol. Each is effective against pain on its own.
However, a study in the journal Pain found that the two are especially effective when combined. Their study was a basic one: the first group took codeine and acetaminophen, while the second group took acetaminophen on its own. They found that the codeine and acetaminophen group experienced ‘significantly’ less pain than the group taking acetaminophen on its own.
Despite their successful results, the scientists faced a problem. A staggering 87% of patients in the first group experienced adverse effects during the first week of treatment. Although this was reduced to 52% by the fourth week, the fact remains that these medications cause significant side effects. These included nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and constipation. As such, the authors of the study did not recommend the use of codeine and acetaminophen for long-term chronic joint pain reduction in seniors.
That being said, not all painkillers are habit-forming or as toxic as this study suggests.
2) Other Opioids
Codeine is an opioid, but it isn’t the only one. Oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl are other examples. Opioids work by binding to ‘opioid receptors’ in the nervous system, which is an exceptionally effective way to reduce pain. Opioids are the treatment of choice for anybody who is allergic to other drugs.
A meta-study in the journal Pain found that opioids result in a mean pain decrease of 30%. Specifically, opioids can help with both neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain. In other words, they can help whether your pain is physical or psychological. This is excellent news for anybody with arthritis since arthritis can be equal parts of both.
There are dozens of different opiates, some natural, and some man-made. Weak opioids like codeine can even be found without a prescription. Stronger varieties are prescription-only.
However, despite some being available without a prescription, opiates are well-known as one of the most addictive drugs. This applies equally to recreational and medical use. Toxicity issues such as nausea, tiredness, and constipation occur frequently. However, the worst ‘side-effect’ is undoubtedly an addiction. As such, opiates aren’t a good choice for anybody with chronic pain.
In some cases of degenerative knee disease, surgery is necessary. The first kind of surgery you might need is called ‘arthroscopic’ surgery. This is a keyhole surgery that’s used to diagnose problems that affect the joints. If you didn’t know, keyhole surgery is a form of surgery that only requires minimal cuts, where a camera is inserted into the joint or body.
Arthroscopy also has a limited use in repairing cartilage, removing damaged bone and cartilage and draining away fluid. However, for more complete solutions to OA, you can have your joint entirely replaced. This is called ‘arthroplasty,’ and is a thorough procedure. It entirely removes the affected joint and replaces it with an artificial one made of metal or plastic.
Arthroplasty is incredibly effective and can entirely get rid of arthritis pain. The joint can last up to about twenty years, at which point it would have to be replaced. However, any further surgery is more than worth the complete prevention of joint pain. If no other solution works for you, surgery is your final and most effective option.
4) Psychological Help
One surprising method that can help reduce arthritis pain is psychological intervention. Another study in the journal Pain found that something called ‘pain catastrophizing’ can make pain worse. This is where the patient’s focus on the pain makes it worse.
Pain catastrophizing is an interesting concept. Some people are naturally more likely to describe a painful experience in more exaggerated terms than others. These people are also likely to think about it more and feel helpless with regards to their pain. The majority of scientists believe that this causes the person to feel more pain than they otherwise would.
The study above proposes that rather than treating the physical pain of OA, they could reduce pain with sleep therapies. They found that ‘interventions targeting sleep’ not only helped sufferers sleep better. On top of that, they also helped the patient focus on things other than their pain. In turn, this made the pain seem less severe.
The participants in the study were encouraged by therapists to keep sleep diaries and learn better sleep hygiene habits. By focusing on improving their sleep, the patients also ‘significantly reduced pain catastrophizing.’ In other words, they thought about the pain that they were experiencing less, and experienced it less severely.
5) Capsaicin Creams
It’s the unique substance that makes spice taste spicy. But spiciness isn’t just a taste; it’s a feeling of heat, almost like a real heat. But it doesn’t have anything to do with physical warmth. It’s just the way that our nerves interpret it.
Capsaicin was first extracted from chili peppers just over two hundred years ago, in 1816. Scientists were fascinated by it since it produced a feeling of heat without having to be hot. Today’s scientists study it as a potential ingredient in analgesic creams. Analgesic creams are any creams that reduce or block out the pain.
Here’s how to use correctly:
- First, clean and dry the affected area before you apply any cream.
- Take a small amount of the cream on your finger. The instructions that came with your cream should tell you how much to use.
- Apply the cream to the affected area.
- Rub the cream into your skin until the majority of it is absorbed.
A study in the British Medical Journal reviewed available research on capsaicin creams. They found that it was moderately effective in treating chronic musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain. Topical capsaicin is non-addictive, unlike many other pain relief agents. The most severe side effect you will experience is a minor burning pain, which occurs whether you use the cream correctly or not.
6) Herbal Medicine
While herbal medicine won’t ever be as effective as some people claim, many are genuine anti-inflammatories. Since arthritis is a condition characterized by inflammation, herbal remedies can help.
As you know, there isn’t just one herb involved in herbal medicine. Plenty might have a positive effect. One well-known treatment is to take turmeric supplements, which have exploded in popularity recently. This is because turmeric has ‘potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-catabolic effects.’ It can, therefore, help with stomach pain, gas, liver problems and even arthritis.
Rosehip can also help. Again, rosehip is anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative. In the same meta-study as above, scientists found that it had a statistically significant pain-reduction effect. Resveratrol, a chemical found in grapes and peanuts, has a similar effect. It’s impressive that such a wide range of natural foods can tackle OA.
The problem is that there are so many manufacturers willing to bend the truth. Rather than share research on their products, they claim that they work without proof. Unfair practices like this erode trust in herbal medicine.
How to Use Herbal Remedies
So, if you would like to choose a herbal remedy to try and help your inflamed joints, pick one from the list below:
- Turmeric or curcumin
- Green tea and black tea
- Eggs (specifically, egg membrane, the film around the egg when you peel it)
Either try to incorporate more of each into your diet or find supplements which contain these additives. You can pick up supplements like these from a health food shop, or online.
7) Strengthening and Aerobic Exercise
Both strength exercises and aerobic exercises can improve joint health and reduce arthritis pain. They also help to improve function, which means that you will enjoy an increased range of movement in your affected joint. This will help to stop your leg cramping in the night and causing you pain, keeping you awake. Also, exercise can help you to sleep better at night.
There is also the added benefit of weight loss. Weight loss reduces joint pain in people who are overweight or obese. This is because by losing weight, you reduce the pressure placed on your joint during the day. Then, during the night, your joint is less likely to cause you pain.
A meta-study in the Journal Pain suggested that the effect of exercise doesn’t just stem from being physically stronger. It’s also related to the psychological effects of keeping to a regime and doing something to tackle the pain. They found that small changes like keeping a personal diary and receiving social support from friends helped too.
Try going to bed earlier. There are scientific studies that prove that there’s a correlation between sleeping late and gaining weight.
How to Keep Exercising Consistently
So if you’d like to start exercising, consider starting with the following tips:
- Find an exercise that you find fun. It could be rock climbing, running, swimming or soccer: it doesn’t matter. Even if you only feel capable of walking, this can help, so long as you approach it as aerobic exercise rather than a stroll.
- Find and buy any products you might need like running shoes, sporting equipment or clothing.
- If possible, find a way of doing it socially. Like we said above, this might stop you from backsliding once you’ve started.
- Try to exercise for at least two hours per week. If your exercise is more vigorous, you won’t need to do as much.
- Keep a diary and set goals to keep encouraging yourself.
The trick is to maintain a positive mental attitude, and continually encourage yourself. Don’t quit after just a week, but keep going when times get tough.
Acupuncture is a common choice for people looking for natural remedies. It has a mixed record of success, although it seems to be slightly more effective than placebo. Randomized and controlled trials use a technique called ‘sham acupuncture,’ where the practitioner uses non-penetrating needles. Another form of sham acupuncture uses real needles in random places rather than those suggested by Chinese medicine. They then compare the results of sham acupuncture to real acupuncture to see whether there was a difference.
A group of scientists writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine tried just such a study. They started with 1000 patients who experienced chronic arthritis pain in the knee. One group was given genuine traditional Chinese acupuncture, whereas the other was given sham acupuncture. In this study, the needles were inserted in random places during the sham acupuncture sessions.
In this study, both sham acupuncture and genuine acupuncture led to around 50% success rate, as opposed to 29% for normal physiotherapy. This suggests that acupuncture might help, although not for the reasons suggested in Chinese medicine (e.g. ‘Chi,’ energy flow and so on). So long as it helps you, it doesn’t particularly matter how.
9) Anti-Inflammatory Diet
In addition to the anti-inflammatory herbal remedies listed above, you can also change your diet for the same effect. Chronic, low-grade inflammation doesn’t just cause arthritis; it’s also bad for your general health. Believe it or not, but many of the worst diseases are triggered by low-grade inflammation.
- Many forms of cancer
- Heart disease
It’s typically made worse by a poor-quality diet. But with the right food on your plate, you can reduce your risk of arthritis pain. Let’s take a look at which foods make the problem worse, and which make it better.
- Foods that make inflammation worse include refined carbohydrates like bread and pastries, French fries and other fried foods, soda, red meat, processed meat and margarine/lard.
- Foods that make inflammation better include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fish, and fruit.
If none of the other tips are working, a change of diet might make your knee pain better.
10) Omega-3 Fish Oils
Try taking Omega-3 fatty acids supplements on a daily basis. These supplements typically come in capsule form. However, you can also buy a jar of Omega-3 oil, which you can take a spoonful by spoonful. It’s supposed to have a range of positive effects, but it’s best known for promoting joint health.
According to the Global Journal of Health Science, Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce morning stiffness, make joints feel less tender, and reduce swelling. In particular, this study examined sixty patients, one group of which took a placebo. Each group took their supplement of Omega-3 three times a day, and they were evaluated at four-week intervals. After three months, the scientists reported ‘significant improvement’ in the pain they felt, to the point that they were able to reduce their use of analgesic medications.
If you’re suffering from throbbing knee pain at night, try just one of the remedies above. In particular, you should look to try Omega-3 supplements and exercise. These two interventions were the most effective, and are beneficial to your overall health as well. If they don’t work for you, consider one of the other options on the list. As a last resort, if your pain is completely unmanageable, ask your doctor for pain management medication.