Joint pain and stiffness caused by arthritis can be debilitating and limit daily activity. It is estimated that 24 million adults in the United States suffer from arthritis. Arthritis occurs when the smooth cushion between bones (cartilage) breaks down making the joint painful, swollen, and difficult to move. Arthritis can affect any joint, but it is most commonly seen in the hands, knees, hips, lower back, and neck. For arthritis sufferers, it can make it difficult to do basic tasks such as hold a cup, lift a grocery bag, or walk to the car.
How is Arthritis Treated?
The main focus for treating arthritis is to relieve symptoms and improve joint function. In some patients, one treatment method may be sufficient in managing symptoms, while some patients may need a combination of different treatments to alleviate symptoms.The goal of conservative treatments is to eliminate or delay surgery, such as a joint replacement (ie. knee, hip, shoulder) or fusion (ie. small joint in the hand or foot).
There are alternative therapies for arthritis that can help improve arthritis symptoms. Orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Richard Cunningham, herein provides a list of alternative therapies for arthritis.
Weight loss is a top recommendation to help ease arthritis pain and improve the overall quality of life of adults living with arthritis — especially if the patient is overweight or has obesity. Additional weight adds load to the joints, increasing arthritis pain degeneration in the joint. Research has shown that maintaining a healthy weight can limit disease progression. It is estimated for every pound lost, there is a 4 pound reduction in the load exerted on the knee. That means that a modest weight loss (example: 5% or 12 pounds for a 250 pound person) can help reduce pain.
Research has demonstrated that eating a diet rich in whole plant foods can not only help with weight loss, but can also reduce inflammation in a joint. Avoid foods that have been processed. Foods that promote inflammation within the joint consist of meat, dairy, fat, refined grains, and sugar. Avoiding these inflammatory foods can help reduce joint pain. Some research has shown that turmeric, the yellow spice common in Indian dishes has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests it may help reduce arthritis pain and inflammation. To learn more about altering your diet to reduce arthritis pain, please visit Dr. Cunningham’s article: A Plant-Based Diet for Arthritis.
Low-impact physical activity, such as walking, hiking, biking, nordic skiing, and swimming are all good ways to alleviate arthritis pain. These physical activities improve overall joint function and can help with weight loss. Some gentle weight training to maintain muscle mass is also important especially as we get older.
Medication and Injections
Medications used to treat arthritis will vary depending on the type of arthritis. Commonly used arthritis medications include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce joint pain and has been demonstrated to be safe. Stronger pain medications (ie. narcotics) are not recommended as arthritis is a chronic disease process and it is unsafe to be on narcotics long term.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce both pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve). It is important to note that oral NSAIDs can cause stomach irritation and may slightly increase your risk of a heart attack so they should be used cautiously and for short term periods of time only when possible. Some NSAIDs are available as creams or gels.
In some cases, injections may be prescribed. Arthritis joint injections include:
- Corticosteroid injections: This injection is typically the first line of injection defense against arthritis symptoms. Corticosteroids can offer relief for two to three months and reduce inflammatory cell activity in the joint. An injected steroid medication is much safer than a steroid taken orally as the medication stays in the joint where it is injected with very little being absorbed systemically.
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections: PRP injections can treat arthritis joint pain by decreasing inflammation in a joint.
In cases where conservative treatment options do not alleviate joint pain, surgery may be considered. Surgery options for arthritis can include cartilage repair, total joint replacement (or resurfacing), or joint fusion in some cases if the arthritis involves a smaller joint. If you are a patient who is suffering from arthritis joint pain, contact orthopedic specialist Dr. Richard Cunningham today to learn about arthritis treatment options: (970) 569-3240.