Author: Theresa Gourde, MD
Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition caused by the gradual erosion of joint cartilage over time. When this happens, the bones rub painfully against each other and joints become stiff, swollen painful and arthritic.
While osteoarthritis mostly affects the hands, knees, hips and spine, it can affect almost any joint. The condition becomes more prevalent with age, and it is more common in people who are overweight. The good news is osteoarthritis can be treated a number of different ways, depending on the severity and stiffness of the pain. These include non-medical therapy, medication, and, in severe cases, surgery.
Treatment Without Medications
There are several ways to improve arthritis symptoms without a prescription.
Weight loss. Excess weight puts undue pressure on joints. One of the best ways to ease joint pain is to lose extra pounds by maintaining a healthy diet of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthier fats.
Physical therapy. Moderate exercise and physical therapy strengthens joint muscles and improves flexibility.
Hot and cold therapies. Applying a heating or cold pack to arthritic joints can help alleviate arthritic pain and stiffness. Keep the heating pad at a low setting and wrap cold packs in a towel. Hot and cold applications should be limited to no more than 20 minutes at a time.
Rest. Arthritic symptoms can worsen with too much activity. Adequate rest can significantly improve the symptoms.
Treatment With Medications
Drug therapy is an important part of treating osteoarthritis.
Pain relief. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can ease arthritis pain but do not treat inflammation. Other effective over-the-counter medications include anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin. With sudden or severe arthritis, narcotic analgesics such as codeine may be required. Narcotic medications can become habit-forming, so it’s important to keep in close touch with the prescribing doctor while taking them.
Joint injections. Hyaluronic acid is a natural lubricant and shock absorber that is injected into the joint to ease osteoarthritis pain. Steroid shots like cortisone also offer quick relief from pain and inflammation.
Treatment With Surgery
Surgical procedures are typically used for patients who have exhausted all other arthritis treatments.
Realignment. This procedure is used when bones have become misaligned from prolonged arthritis. This type of surgery is generally reserved for younger, more active patients as an alternative to joint replacement surgery.
Joint replacement. When there is severe arthritis in the hip or knee, joint replacement surgery may be used to replace a damaged joint with an artificial joint. This procedure significantly reduces joint pain, and the results typically last for at least three years.
Fusion. When joint replacement surgery is not an option, fusion may be used to permanently join two or more bones together using screws, pins or plates until they heal. The bones will fuse as one, but the joint will lose its flexibility.
Osteoarthritis is a painful, chronic condition, but there are a number of treatments available. Talk with your doctor to make sure every possible treatment option is being explored.