Although Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that may last a lifetime, several approaches to treatment are effective.
It used to be thought that exercise causes ‘wear and tear’ on the body, especially in joints. Now, however, being inactive is considered detrimental to joint health. Experts now recognize the importance of exercise for strengthening joints, both before and after symptoms of arthritis appear. Swimming, walking, low-impact aerobics and range-of-motion exercises are beneficial to dealing with joint pain and stiffness.
Cortisone is used to reduce inflammation and improve joint mobility. The most commonly used corticosteroids are Prednisone, methylprednisone, Decadron and Aristocort. Occasionally, the hormone is injected into the joint to stop pain. However, the use of any corticosteriods should be discussed extensively with a doctor, as they do have side effects (depending on the dosage and length of time they are used.)
Acetaminophen is commonly used for pain relief, although it is dangerous in doses higher than 4,000 mg daily and poses a risk for patients with liver disease.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be used, although inflammation is less of a problem in this kind of arthritis. A new kind of NSAID called COX-2 inhibitors recently came onto the market with the promise of fewer gastrointestinal side effects. Please read our in-depth articles in the library for more information.
Hyaluronan and Viscosupplementation. Hyaluronan, a naturally occurring substance in synovial fluid reduces joint pain by enriching the natural properties of synovial fluid. Vicosupplementation is the name of the therapy in which hyaluronan is injected into the knee. Synvisc and Hyalagan are two brand names to look for, and are recommended for the treatment of OA in the knee after traditional therapies are unsuccessful.
Being overweight is a definite risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. The increased load on joints may accelerate the breakdown of cartilage; for example, it is estimated that people with the highest body weight in the population have up to ten times the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis than those with the lowest weight. Weight issues are an important part of arthritis management. Successful strategies include calorie reduction, increased physical activity, and general adjustments in eating and exercise habits.
Heat and Ice
Warm baths, heat lamps and warm compresses can relieve pain. Heat also reduces stiffness and increases movement. Other people find relief in cold packs, especially for inflammation. In either case, remove the compress or ice after 20 minutes.
Topical products are sometimes used to provide temporary relief from arthritis pain. Capsaicin, a compound found in hot peppers, reduces pain when applied to the affected area three or four times a day. Other products, called counterirritants, use camphor, menthol or turpentine oil to mask the pain. Skin irritation may develop, but otherwise there are few side effects.
In severe cases, surgery can help to repair torn cartilage and remove loose bone fragments. There are several different types of procedures, from arthroplasty, where the entire damaged joint is replaced, to osteotomy, which removes damaged bone tissue.