Diagnosing and Treating Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic, long term disease with no outright cure. OA is a disease characterized by inflamed joints and degradation of the cartilage, which is the cushion between your joints Treatments are available to manage symptoms, and long term management of the disease will rely on several factors. Most importantly are improving joint mobility/flexibility, proper exercise in the right doses, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing pain, stiffness, and swelling. Let’s go over a few ways to achieve these desired results:
Excess weight will add unneeded stress to weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, feet and back. Losing a moderate amount of weight in a healthy manner can help OA and reduce pain and limit further joint damage. One of the best ways for losing weight is to eat fewer calories and increase physical activity. If weight loss sounds like a four letter word to you, know that just a small amount of weight loss, 10% can significantly reduce your arthritis pain.
A very beneficial way to manage OA can be one of the hardest, which is to move. It won’t come naturally because when patients are in pain they tend to rest what hurts, but when it comes to OA, moving is considered an important part of the treatment plan. Studies show that something as simple as walking for a mile and working their way up can reduce pain and help maintain a healthy weight. (Eckstein, 2009)
A knee brace can be helpful in taking the weight off the affected side of the knee, making exercise more tolerable. Please see available options for braces near the end of the article.
If you are experiencing pain while doing exercise it is important to stop and consult a doctor before moving forward.
After patients have become comfortable with basic exercises like walking, strength building exercise can build muscles around OA-affected joints, which will greatly ease the burden on those joints and help to reduce pain. To help with stiffness and flexibility, range-of-motion exercises are highly effective. Always make sure to talk to a doctor before starting any exercise program.
Stretching may seem basic and pointless, but its benefits can be amazing. Slow, gentle stretching of joints may improve flexibility, lessen stiffness and reduce pain. If you enjoy stretching and become more advanced you may want to check out Yoga or a similar program.
Pain and Anti-inflammatory Medications
There is no cure for OA but there are many treatment medicines, and they come in different forms.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are the most commonly used drugs to ease inflammation and related pain. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib. They are available over-the-counter or by prescription.
- Analgesics are pain relievers and include acetaminophen, opioids (narcotics) and an atypical opioid called tramadol. They are available over-the-counter or by prescription.
- Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in joint fluid, acting as a shock absorber and lubricant. However, the acid appears to break down in people with osteoarthritis. The injections are done in a doctor’s office.
- Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medicines. They are taken by mouth or injected directly into a joint at a doctor’s office.
Physical and Occupational Therapy
Physical and occupational therapists can provide a range of treatment options.
- Ways to properly use joints
- Heat and cold therapies
- Range of motion and flexibility exercises
- Assistive devices
Assistive devices can help with function and mobility. These include items, such as like scooters, canes, walkers, splints, shoe orthotics or helpful tools, such as jar openers, long-handled shoe horns or steering wheel grips. Many devices can be found at pharmacies and medical supply stores. But some items, such as knee braces. If you are currently seeing a doctor you may want to check with them before any treatment programs or buying medical equipment to see if it aligns with your treatment plan.
Check out the following items from Brace it Better for more information on helpful braces or get one today:
Moderate to severe OA:
Natural and Alternative Therapies
Many people with OA use natural or alternative therapies to address symptoms and improve their overall well-being. These include nutritional supplements, acupuncture or acupressure, massage, relaxation techniques and hydrotherapy, among others.
When all other options have been exhausted surgery may be necessary.
Joint surgery can repair or replace severely damaged joints, especially hips or knees. A doctor will refer an eligible patient to an orthopedic surgeon to perform the procedure.
With osteoarthritis, some of the symptoms include:
- Deep pain in the joint
- Difficulty dressing
- Difficulty gripping
- Difficulty bending over or sitting down
- Overall or concentrated fatigue
- Joint is warm to touch
- Morning stiffness
- Pain when walking
- Stiffness after resting
- Swelling of the joint
Check out the following risk factors for OA:
- Abnormal joint positions
- Age (risk increases with age)
- Athletics (wear and tear and injuries)
- Changing forces (putting weight on one knee or hip)
- Gender (osteoarthritis is more common in women)
- Heavy, constant joint use
- Joint injury by other types of arthritis
- Knee surgery
- Lack of exercise (weak muscles give no support to aging joints)
- Being overweight