Easing Joint and Muscle Pain in Lupus

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Muscle aches (myalgia) and joint pain (arthralgia) are very common in lupus. About 2/3 of the people awith lupus diagnosis complain of muscles aches, and up to 90 percent struggle with joint pain.

Here’s what you need to know:

Your Muscles: Not all of your muscles are likely to be affected by lupus—those between the elbow and neck and the knee and hip are more likely to be the ones that ache because of lupus.  If other muscles are consistently bothering you, you may have triggered a gym injury or there may be some other cause of the aches.

Your Joints: Joint pain occurs because the thin membrane of connective tissue (called the synovium) that lines certain joint spaces (for example, the knees, hands, and hips) grows and thickens.  This increase in size and the inflammation can cause pain and swelling in the joints as well as the tendons and fluid-filled sacs that normally serve to reduce friction between body tissues (called bursae).  The inflammation of the connective tissue occasionally releases a chemical that can be destructive to bone and/or cartilage.  For this reason, you do need to discuss your symptoms with your doctor to be certain that no long-term damage is taking place. 

In addition, there are several at-home remedies that may provide relief: 

  • Many people report that heating pads and warm showers or baths offer relief by lessening pain and reducing stiffness.
  • If a heating pad is not helpful, then try ice packs. Ice is generally used for acute injuries, not chronic conditions, but if heat isn’t working a cold pack will help calm inflammation and serve as an anesthetic to a part of the body that is hurting.
  • Elevating achy legs can also be helpful. Put pillows or blankets underneath your legs when you have time to sit or lie down.
  • There are some very good over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs that will give you temporary relief. You are probably already being prescribed some type of anti-inflammatory medication so check with your doctor as to which ones will be best for you to use.

Exercise: The Long-Term Remedy

Though it seems counter-intuitive, start a regular exercise program.  The more you use the joints and muscles—and the more strength you build in your body—the less likely you are to be laid low by debilitating aches and pains.

Some lupus patients also suffer from fibromyalgia, which involves amplified pain in specific areas of the body.  This will be discussed another time.

Brought to you by Lupus LA.

Research based on The Lupus Book: A Guide for Patients and Their Families by Daniel J. Wallace, M.D.