What is lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain. There are several types of lupus, with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) being the most common. SLE can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. About 1.5 million Americans have lupus, with women 9 times more likely to be diagnosed. African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women are also at greater risk. While the exact causes are unknown, lupus is linked to genes, hormones, and environmental factors.
What causes pain in lupus?
Lupus causes widespread inflammation that can lead to joint pain, muscle pain, and general body aches. Specific sources of lupus pain include:
– Joint pain – About 90% of people with lupus experience joint pain caused by inflammation in the lining of joints called synovitis. Any joints can be affected, especially in the fingers, wrists, knees, and ankles.
– Muscle pain – Up to 60% of lupus patients have myalgia or muscle pain and weakness, especially in the shoulders, thighs, and upper arms. Inflammation can occur in the fascia, the tissue surrounding muscles.
– Pleurisy – Chest pain affecting the lining of the lungs (pleura), caused by inflammation. Deep breathing, coughing, and sneezing can worsen pain.
– Pericarditis – Chest pain from inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericardium). Pain worsens when lying down.
– Vasculitis – Inflamed blood vessels can cause pain, especially when blood flow is reduced to the fingers and toes (Raynaud’s phenomenon).
– Kidney inflammation (nephritis) – Lower back or abdominal pain can signal kidney involvement in lupus.
How can you manage lupus pain at home?
While medications play an important role, many home remedies and lifestyle approaches can help calm lupus pain and discomfort:
Cold and hot therapy
Alternating hot and cold therapy can relieve muscle and joint aches. Try a heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm bath paired with ice packs. Some find menthol gels helpful too. Avoid extreme temperatures that could damage skin.
While exercise with lupus can be a balancing act, gentle activities like walking, swimming, and stretching can ease pain by increasing circulation and range of motion. Yoga and tai chi are good low-impact options. Avoid overexertion which can worsen symptoms.
Eat more anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil. Avoid processed foods, excess salt, sugar, fats, and alcohol which may worsen inflammation. Stay hydrated with plenty of water.
Massage can help relieve muscle tension and joint stiffness. Use gentle pressure and avoid tender spots. Massage oils and creams can enhance comfort. Self-massage or a massage therapist can provide benefit.
Meditation and relaxation
Coping with chronic pain is stressful. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, visualization, yoga, and mindfulness practices activate the body’s relaxation response, helping ease pain. Make time to unwind and do activities you enjoy.
Acupuncture uses thin needles on specific body points to reduce pain. While more research is needed, some studies suggest acupuncture can decrease arthritis pain and fatigue in lupus patients. It’s considered a safe complementary approach.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT is an effective psychological treatment combining behavioral strategies with thought modification techniques. By changing negative thought and behavior patterns, people can better manage painful symptoms.
Comfortable movement and rest
Find a balance between gentle activity and rest periods to avoid overexertion. Use good posture, ergonomics, and body mechanics. Take breaks as needed. Get enough high-quality sleep.
Develop healthy coping strategies for stress, which can worsen lupus pain. Try journaling, listening to music, spending time outdoors in nature, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy. Consider counseling for anxiety, depression, and coping skills.
What medications help relieve lupus pain?
Doctors often prescribe medications to control inflammation and calm lupus pain. Frequently used options include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) alleviate mild pain and inflammation. Stronger prescription NSAIDs may be used for moderate to severe pain. Long-term NSAID use can cause gastrointestinal, kidney, and heart side effects.
Steroids like prednisone reduce swelling and pain by suppressing the immune system. Oral steroids treat flare-ups while topical steroids treat rashes and skin vasculitis. Steroids carry risks including weight gain, bone loss, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Antimalarials like hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) prevent lupus flares, reducing joint pain, rash, and fatigue. Eye damage is a potential side effect requiring monitoring.
Drugs like methotrexate, azathioprine (Imuran), mycophenolate (CellCept), cyclosporine, and cyclophosphamide restrain the overactive immune system. Potential side effects include nausea, vomiting, infections, and cancer risks.
Newer drugs like belimumab (Benlysta) and anifrolumab (Saphnelo) block proteins that aggravate lupus. Headaches, infections, depressions, rashes, and nausea can occur.
For significant pain unresponsive to other therapies, doctors may prescribe stronger pain medications like tramadol or opioids, with addiction risks.
What complementary therapies help with lupus pain?
Integrative medicine combines standard treatments with complementary approaches like:
Fish oil, turmeric, ginger, boswellia, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) supplements may curb inflammation. Always check with your doctor first regarding dosage and interactions.
Herbs used for lupus pain include devil’s claw, white willow bark, capsicum, and the Chinese herb Thunder God Vine. These can interact with medications. Consult an expert.
Acupuncture may relieve lupus joint swelling, fatigue, and headache. More research is needed on its efficacy and optimal use in lupus.
Yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, hypnotherapy, and creative arts therapy like music or art therapy activate relaxation pathways to help ease pain.
Spinal manipulation and posture correction techniques can alleviate musculoskeletal pain related to lupus.
Various massage modalities like Swedish, Shiatsu, craniosacral, and reflexology may unwind muscle tension and promote comfort.
What are some practical lifestyle tips for managing lupus pain?
Making specific lifestyle adjustments can help minimize your lupus pain:
– Use excellent posture and body mechanics during all daily activities.
– Avoid positions that strain joints like crossing your legs. Keep joints properly aligned.
– Wear comfortable shoes with cushioning and support. Consider custom orthotics.
– Layer clothing and keep warm, as joint pain worsens with cold.
– Use compression gloves, wrist braces, knee sleeves, or splints to support painful joints.
– Employ gadgets and mobility aids like jar openers, walkers, elevated toilet seats, shower stools, and reaching devices.
– Avoid taxing hand activities like prolonged typing, knitting, wringing laundry, or lifting heavy objects.
– Get sufficient sleep and take daytime rests during fatigue or flares.
– Set up a distraction-free environment and relaxing bedtime routine to optimize sleep.
– Use techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing, and guided imagery to improve sleep.
– Engage in mild regular exercise like walking, swimming, or stretching to reduce stiffness.
– Drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated fluids to stay hydrated.
– Eat small, frequent, nutritious meals to keep energy levels stable.
– Apply topical heat or cold packs to soothe tender areas.
– Avoid prolonged sun exposure which exacerbates symptoms. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen.
– Reduce stress through relaxing hobbies, social connection, nature time, counseling, or support groups.
– Quit smoking, as tobacco intensifies joint pain and health risks.
– Join a lupus support community to exchange coping strategies for pain.
– Communicate any limitations or needs to family, friends, and coworkers.
– Maintain a positive attitude and be gentle with yourself on difficult days.
When to seek medical help for lupus pain?
Consult your rheumatologist promptly if you experience:
– Sudden severe pain or swelling in new locations
– Unexplained fever, illness, numbness, or tingling
– Skin rashes, sores, or changes in color
– Shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, or abdominal pain
– Severe unrelenting headache or neurological symptoms
– Vision problems, eye pain or redness
– Increased swelling or pain in legs
– Blood in the urine or frothy urine
– Heart palpitations or abnormal heart beat
– Unintentional weight loss
– New or worsening symptoms not responsive to home treatment
While learning to manage lupus pain at home is important, worsening symptoms require medical assessment to modify treatment and prevent complications. Ongoing communication with your healthcare team is key. Don’t hesitate to call with any new or concerning symptoms or pain not relieved by self-care strategies. Your providers can best advise how to find an optimal balance between rest and activity, make medication adjustments as needed, and help you cope with the ups and downs of this unpredictable disease. With the right mix of medical care, lifestyle adjustments, and integrative therapies tailored to your unique needs, you can achieve the greatest reduction in your lupus pain and improve your quality of life.
Lupus is a complex autoimmune disease that often causes joint pain, muscle aches, pleurisy, headaches, and general discomfort due to widespread inflammation. Integrating home remedies like hot and cold therapy, massage, stress reduction, exercise, and dietary changes can help calm lupus pain alongside medications, injections, and other medical treatments. Communicate closely with your healthcare providers and don’t hesitate to call them for any new, worsening, or unexplained symptoms. With the right combination of traditional and complementary approaches, most lupus patients can achieve significant control over pain and live a full life. Research continues to provide hope for improved therapies and ultimately a cure.