More than 32.5 million Americans suffer from the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that becomes a lot more common with age. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, occurring when wear and tear erode the lubricating surfaces of the joints, causing inflammation and interfering with normal joint movement.
As a leading orthopedic physician in Houston, Texas, Joshua D. Harris, MD, is experienced in treating osteoarthritis, using a combination of therapies based on each patient’s symptoms, joint health, lifestyle, and other factors. Most treatment plans combine self-care with medical care to achieve the best results.
If you have arthritis pain, here’s how a custom treatment plan from Dr. Harris can help.
Self-care includes things you can do on your own under Dr. Harris’ care. As with the medical component of treatment, the self-care component is based on your symptoms, the severity of the disease, and other patient-based factors.
Exercise therapy is a very effective treatment for osteoarthritis. Mild soreness, ache, discomfort, even mild swelling is not uncommon and not necessarily cause for concern. However, severe pain, night pain, limping, or pain that does not resolve within 2-3 months should prompt a doctor’s evaluation. “No pain, no gain” does not apply. You should not feel the need to “push through pain”, as this typically not only unnecessary, but also potentially harmful.
A hot water bottle, a heating pad, or a long soak in a warm bath can provide a lot of comfort to a painful, stiff joint.
An ice pack, cold compress, or an ice bath can also provide significant relief to a painful, swollen joint. You can alternate heat therapy with a cold pack (also, known as “contrast treatment”) to relieve discomfort after physical activity.
Every extra pound you carry puts extra strain on the joints in your legs, feet, and back. Losing even a few pounds reduces that strain to help decrease your symptoms.
Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often the first-line treatment for mild osteoarthritis. These may include ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), among several others. Only take medication as directed by Dr. Harris to avoid potential side effects, especially if you take other medications, too.
Medical treatment plays a critical role in relieving symptoms and slowing down the progression of the disease.
Structured physical therapy uses education, exercise therapy, strengthening, and gentle stretches to improve pain and function. Most physical therapy programs also include exercises you can do at home too.
When over-the-counter medicines don’t provide sufficient relief, Dr. Harris may prescribe medication to help decrease both pain and inflammation. Medication is usually prescribed in addition to other therapies, and it should only be used as directed. The most commonly utilized medications are NSAIDs, and these include celecoxib (Celebrex), meloxicam, (Mobic), nabumetone (Relafen). Opioids are strongly discouraged and not recommended for routine arthritis treatment. Muscle relaxers (e.g. cyclobenzaprine [Flexeril], tizanidine [Zanaflex], carisoprodol [Soma], metaxolone [Skelaxin]) and nerve medications (gabapentin [Neurontin], pregabalin [Lyrica]) are not recommended for routine arthritis treatment.
Injections can be a good choice when pain medication, physical therapy, and other more conservative options aren’t effective. Injections of corticosteroids and anesthetics can help relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis. Other evidence-based injections include hyaluronate (also known as hyaluronic acid), and platelet-rich plasma (also known as PRP).
When non-surgical options don’t provide relief for pain and stiffness, Dr. Harris may recommend joint surgery. Depending on your needs, surgery may focus on reshaping the joint and removing debris or bone spurs. You might need joint replacement surgery to remove the damaged joint and insert artificial joint components. Joint surgery is only considered when a good course of non-surgical treatment has been unable to achieve a satisfactory or acceptable level of symptoms. This is an important point - some patients with severe arthritis on an x-ray may only have mild symptoms that never “needs” a joint replacement, while some patients with less than severe arthritis on an x-ray may have severe symptoms for years that have not been relieved with non-surgical treatment and ultimately do great with joint replacement. It is critical for your surgeon to treat you, not your x-ray.
Even though osteoarthritis is more common among older people, it can happen at a younger age, especially among athletes and physically active people. Evidence has shown the average age of patients with arthritis undergoing joint replacement is getting younger. The key to finding relief is to schedule an evaluation as early as possible, so your management plan can focus on education, relief of painful symptoms, and treatment guided by your assessment.
To learn more about what you can do to relieve your arthritis symptoms, call or book an appointment online and let Dr. Harris design a custom treatment plan just for you.