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Managing Pain Q3 2023

Useful tips to help manage pain while waiting for surgery

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Deborah Eastwood

President, British Orthopaedic Association

For those waiting for a joint replacement or similar procedure, here are some tips to help you manage your pain while you are waiting.


The latest Government figures show that over 800,000 people are on orthopaedic waiting lists, with 25% of these awaiting an operation. Living with joint pain and stiffness is challenging. The symptoms significantly limit your ability to take part in simple activities and reduce your quality of life; it can seem impossible to climb a flight of stairs or make a simple meal.

Follow recommendations and move in moderation

Firstly, your GP should offer guidance on pain management strategies that align with your specific condition and medical history. They may recommend certain medications, physical therapy exercises or other interventions tailored to your needs. Overall, moderation in all things is the key to controlling your symptoms. Do exercise in moderation but also take simple analgesics, and remember that relative rest from painful activities is sensible.

Take the right medication

Simple pain relievers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help with mild to moderate joint pain. However, do follow your doctor’s advice/packet information regarding dosage and duration. Be mindful that there can be side effects.

Over 800,000 people are on orthopaedic waiting lists, with 25% of these awaiting an operation.

Hot and cold therapy

Applying heat or cold to the affected joint can provide temporary relief. Cold packs reduce inflammation while hot packs or warm baths help relax muscles and ease stiffness.

Engage in gentle exercise

It’s important to keep mobile, so low-impact exercises like swimming, walking or stationary cycling are helpful and don’t strain joints unnecessarily. They reduce fatigue and make it easier to walk a little further or a little longer.

Manage your weight

Adopting a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight is crucial, as excess weight exacerbates joint pain.

Practice mindfulness

Practices such as meditation, deep breathing and mindfulness help manage pain by promoting relaxation and reducing stress. Activities that keep you mentally busy distract you from the physical discomfort.

Seek emotional support

Dealing with joint pain and the wait for surgery can take an emotional toll. Get support from friends, family or a mental health professional to manage anxiety and maintain a positive outlook. The charities Arthritis Action and Versus Arthritis have a wealth of information on their websites. They also highlight local support groups that can help.

You can find more resources on managing your pain while waiting for surgery on the BOA website at boa.ac.uk/patients

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