Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that affects more than 50 million Americans. This common type of degenerative arthritis can lead to pain, swelling, and even deformity of joints. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the knees, hips, ankles, shoulders, and fingers. The cause of this disease is multifactorial, but has a clear genetic or familial link. Many patients develop post-traumatic following injuries to the joint earlier in their life. In the knee arthritis often develops years following meniscus or ACL injuries. In the hip, osteoarthritis can develop after a labral tear or long standing femoral acetabular impingement. Obesity or increased body weight can also play a role in developing arthritis, and can make symptoms more pronounced. This pain and swelling often leads to difficulty with simple tasks such as walking, exercising, standing, or even getting dressed!
Thankfully, there are successful treatments available for osteoarthritis.
Lifestyle modifications such as low impact exercises like walking, swimming, or biking have positive effects on the joint for preserving range of motion and decreasing stiffness.
When stiffness and pain limit your ability to participate in these activities, your doctor may recommend a course of physical therapy to assist in regaining motion and strength as well as controlling painful swelling. A healthy, well balanced, low carbohydrate and high protein diet including fruits and vegetables, can be an important part of supporting healthy joints. If you are overweight and suffer from arthritis pain, seeking out the help of a nutritionist can often kick start the weight loss process.
For most arthritis patients, lifestyle modification is not enough. Over the counter treatments include the supplement glucosamine. This can be found alone, or combined in many commercially available supplements like Joint Fuel or Osteo biflex. The safest medication for arthritis pain is acetaminophen or Tylenol. When Tylenol is not effective enough, the mainstay of treatment for arthritis pain is the Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil, Aleve, Motrin, or BC Powder. Prescription strength ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, celecoxib, or meloxicam can be obtained with a prescription from your doctor or surgeon.
If pain and limitations from arthritis persist despite these treatments, then most patients would benefit from seeking further treatment options from an orthopaedic surgeon experienced in treating arthritis.
Proper x-rays will been taken and evaluated. They may offer injections into the arthritic joints such as steroids or “cortisone shots”. These injections are not typically painful when performed properly, and are highly effective at relieving pain and swelling. Another injection for relieving knee pain is a “gel shot” or hyaluronic acid. These injections work as a pain relieving lubricant and anti-inflammatory in the joint, and can provide many months of relief. Other promising treatments you may hear about such as PRP or stem cells, are very expensive and not well proven effective for arthritis.
When arthritis progresses to the end stage of “bone on bone” joint surfaces, and your everyday activities are limited by pain, then you may be a candidate for joint replacement surgery. These procedures known as joint arthroplasty, involve resurfacing or replacing the worn out cartilage joint with metal, ceramic or plastic materials.
Both hip and knee replacements are proven highly effective ways of essentially curing an effected joint of arthritis. Most joint replacement patients can return to low impact exercise and activities of daily living without pain in their joints!
These surgeries are now performed with patient specific technologies such as robotic guidance and other improved techniques to allow patients to recover more quickly and with less pain. Millions of patients across the globe have been successfully treated with partial or total joint replacements. Ask your doctor if you may benefit from evaluation by a board certified and fellowship trained joint replacement surgeon.
To learn more about osteoarthritis and joint replacement surgery, click here to visit The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ website.
Scott E Grabill, DO