What are the treatment options for osteoarthritis?
Painful swelling of the joints due to wear and tear over many years is called osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis may develop in any joint that includes the fingers, hips, and knees. Usually, the joints feel painful during moderate usage for patients with arthritis. The cartilage (a rubbery tissue covering the ends of the bones) breaks down over time, leaving the bones without anything to cushion them. This causes them to rub against each other, resulting in pain and swelling. There are many treatment options available to curb the complications of arthritis.
Painkillers along with guided physical activity are usually considered the best treatment for arthritis in the early stages. However, if patients are unable to continue their daily activities, then the surgical option is recommended for relief.
Physical activity: Patients with arthritis have a hard time performing physical activities, but exercise is the best thing that can relieve arthritis pain and lessen joint damage. Exercise can also help to lose weight. That will put less stress on the joints. Exercises such as stretching, muscle strengthening, and swimming can help patients to keep fit. It also increases flexibility, range of motion, and lubrication in the joints. Exercises involving lifting weights can build muscle strength, which can help them to manage daily activities with moderate effort. Exercises also strengthen the heart and lungs and can reduce fatigue and increase patients’ stamina. Typical aerobic exercises such as walking, running, riding a bicycle, and swimming can cut down calories. Walking and water aerobics are considered the best exercises for patients with arthritis.
Corticosteroid injections: Medications may relieve pain in the joint. During this procedure, the doctor numbs the area around the joints, then places a needle into space within the joints, and injects medication. The number of cortisone injections may be limited to three or four each year because the medication can worsen joint damage over time.
Lubrication injections: Injections of hyaluronic acid may offer pain relief by providing some cushioning in your knee. Hyaluronic acid is similar to a component normally found in your joint fluid.
Natural remedies: Some herbs and supplements (capsaicin, flaxseed, ginger, ginkgo, and turmeric) may relieve arthritis. However, the most popular ones for pain relief are chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine. Both are made of compounds found in the cartilage. They may help your body regenerate the cartilage on the joints. Studies have shown that they may provide modest pain relief and could be tried if patients are unable to tolerate other pain medications. The American College of Rheumatology doesn’t currently recommend the use of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine. Other natural remedies include acupuncture, massage, heating pads, and ice packs. Reducing stress by maintaining a positive outlook may also help to reduce joint pain and swelling.
Physical therapy or rehabilitation: Physical therapists can work with patients on exercises to reduce pain and improve range of motion.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): Treatment with TENS is usually arranged by a physiotherapist or doctor. It uses a machine that sends electrical impulses through sticky patches, called electrodes, attached to the skin. This may help ease the pain caused by osteoarthritis by numbing the nerve endings in the spinal cord that control pain.
Surgery: If patients have tried numerous remedies and got no relief or only a temporary reprieve, the doctor may suggest surgical options which include:
- Joint repair: In this procedure, joint surfaces are usually smoothed or realigned to reduce pain and improve function. These types of procedures can often be performed arthroscopically through small incisions over the joint.
- Joint replacement: This procedure removes the damaged joint and replaces it with an artificial one. The most commonly replaced joints are the hips and knees.
- Joint fusion: This procedure is more often used for smaller joints, such as those in the wrist, ankles, and fingers. It removes the ends of the two bones in the joints and then locks those ends together until they heal into one rigid unit.
Does osteoarthritis reduce life expectancy?
It is usually difficult to predict the course of arthritis, and life expectancy varies greatly on several factors. Arthritis can reduce a person’s life expectancy and quality of life, although many people live with their symptoms beyond the age of 80 or even 90 years. Factors affecting arthritis prognosis include age, disease progression, and lifestyle factors, such as smoking and weight. Due to advances in medications and other treatments, the prognosis for arthritis is better than ever before.
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