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Osteoarthritis Is a Pain! Learn How to Get Back to Active

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You may have heard friends mention pain as their joints “wear out,” but this degenerative condition is actually a disease of the joint called osteoarthritis (OA). And for many people, pain from OA can be a daily occurrence.

“Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is extremely common as people age — it shows up in nearly half of those over age 65,” said Kelli Baum, DO, a total joint surgeon at Samaritan Mid-Valley Orthopedics.

OA occurs most often in the hands, spine, hips and knees. In a healthy joint, cartilage at the end of the bones creates smooth and pain-free movements. With OA, the cartilage deteriorates and exposes the underlying bone. This causes areas of bone to rub against bone, leading to pain, swelling and stiffness.

Baum reports that OA can affect anyone, but people who are obese, have a family history of OA or have had a previous joint injury may be at a higher risk.

“Pain from osteoarthritis usually progresses over time. It can lead to limited mobility and affect one’s quality of life,” said Baum. “To decrease symptoms and maintain mobility, patients should remain active, maintain a healthy weight, and find activities to keep their joints moving without worsening their pain, such as water aerobics or cycling.”

Tips to Manage OA Pain

Exercise

According to Baum, exercise is one of the most important things you can do to manage OA pain. Exercise can strengthen the muscles around your joint to help support it, and help you keep up with your regular activities. Exercise can also help you maintain your weight.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Carrying extra weight is hard on your joints and can wear them out more quickly. Losing excess weight can help your joints feel better and slow the progression of the disease.

Eat a Diet Rich in Nutrients

Baum reports there is mixed research on whether supplements are beneficial, but a healthy diet that is rich in nutrients is important to maintaining your overall health, including the health of your joints. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, legumes and healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds.

Assistive Devices

Assistive devices can assist with certain activities in order to reduce pain. Canes, walkers and adaptive equipment around the home such as raised toilet seats and grab bars can help make daily tasks easier. If you need more help, an occupational therapist can help you identify ways to modify daily tasks to maintain your independence and capabilities.

Injections

Cortisone injections, when appropriate, can help reduce pain from inflammation within the joint. Other, non-cortisone injections are also available. Baum cautions that injections may not be for everyone, so talk to your doctor to discuss whether injections are a good option for you.

Pain Medication

Over-the-counter pain medications, specifically anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen and Aleve, can help with the inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. Tylenol can also be effective in reducing joint pain. However, these medications may not be appropriate for everyone and should be discussed with your doctor prior to starting treatment.

Surgery

Osteoarthritis can progress where conservative measures no longer provide symptom relief.  When patients have exhausted non-operative treatment options and their pain continues to affect their quality of life, joint replacement surgery can then be considered.

“Many symptoms of osteoarthritis can be managed with non-operative treatments such as weight loss, over the counter medications and injections,” said Baum. “However, when these treatments no longer provide symptom relief and the pain from arthritis interferes with one’s quality of life, joint replacement surgery can have a big impact. It can provide patients an opportunity to get their quality of life back.”

Attend a seminar to learn more about joint health and joint replacement. 

Read about a patient from Independence who is back to active after a recent knee replacement.