Swelling is one of the unwelcome symptoms of arthritis, along with pain and stiffness. It's caused by inflammation and can come after a long day of activity, after eating or drinking certain substances, or even just because the weather is cold and rainy. How can you deal with this difficult symptom so its interference in your life is minimal?

According to Dr. Rachel Rohde, an orthopedic surgeon in Southfield, Michigan and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the RICE treatment can be of great help in cases of arthritic swelling. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, and it's the same treatment often recommended for injuries. Here are the specifics of the RICE treatment:

  • Rest. It's easy enough to rest your large joints by sitting or lying down or not engaging in strenuous physical activity. But don't neglect the smaller joints that may be swollen. Since small joints in the wrist and hand are common arthritis spots, you may need to consciously rest these joints as well. Things such as writing, typing on the computer, cooking, and simple household and lifestyle tasks all put a strain on the small joints of the body. Talk to a hand therapist about modifications you can make in your daily activities that won't strain your joints unnecessarily.
  • Ice. This is pretty self-explanatory. Icing the swollen joints can bring about relief, as the cold decreases inflammation.
  • Compression. Compressing the joints can help your swelling and pain recede. You can buy neoprene (the same material used in scuba-diving suits) sleeves to fit over your affected joints.
  • Elevation. Keep the affected joint above the level of the heart, recommends Dr. Rohde. "This is so that the extra fluid can "drain" back into the circulation instead of pooling in that are."

What else can you do to treat swelling? Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may help. Also, speak with your doctor about starting a program of physical therapy, or using a brace or splint to give the swollen joint extra support. Steroid injections may also be an option, and surgery may be a last resort.


Source: Rachel S. Rohde, M.D., Michigan Orthopaedic Institute, Southfield, Michigan.