If you are one of the 27 million Americans suffering from osteoarthritis, you may have tried managing the condition on your own without relief. If your symptoms have not improved or even worsened, it may be time to take things to the next level.
“For late-stage osteoarthritis, surgical intervention means joint replacement,” said Chad Reed, DO, an orthopedic surgeon with Kettering Health. “But if home remedies and over-the-counter medications aren’t providing any relief, there are other options to try before surgery is required.”
Here are five treatments that can help alleviate arthritis pain or eliminate it entirely.
Joints are like machine parts; they work well when they’re properly lubricated. In a healthy joint, synovial fluid keeps the joint lubricated and acts as a shock absorber. But if you have osteoarthritis, part of that fluid breaks down, contributing to pain and stiffness. Injectable treatments can help.
“Steroid injections provide pain relief and can be repeated every three months if needed,” explained Dr. Reed. “They can provide good, long-lasting relief but will eventually stop working. Then we also use gel injections.”
Viscosupplementation is a procedure where a thick fluid (gel), called hyaluronate, is injected into the knee joint. “The injection provides a temporary replacement for the thick, oily fluid that should be in the joint but is lost as we age,” he said. “The gel provides lubrication, as well as cushioning the knee, and it may have some anti-inflammatory properties as well.”
For knees, compressive braces can help reduce swelling and pain. Realignment or off-loading braces alter the force placed on the knee during regular movement, providing stability and support.
“Patients can use an unloader brace to apply pressure to the knee, creating a gap on the worn-out side and providing some relief,” Dr. Reed said. “Sometimes they are hard to wear; they can be uncomfortable. And you need to be careful because, when you take them off, the knee goes back out of alignment.”
3. Physical therapy and exercise
Physical therapy and targeted exercise keep you moving while reducing pain and inflammation of the affected joints. A therapist will create a personalized plan for your particular symptoms to help improve movement, add strength, and reduce stiffness.
Range-of-motion exercises help to improve flexibility and reduce additional stress on the joint. They focus on bending, straightening, and rotational ability.
Muscle strengthening is a critical component to the physical therapy plan. With reduced cartilage in the knee, for example, strengthening the muscles around the joint can help preserve it. Quadriceps and hamstrings, on each side of the thigh, go along the knee and help control movement and impact on the bones. Strengthening those muscles provides additional support for the affected joint, relieving pressure and as a result, pain.
Core (abdominal, lower back, and pelvic muscle) strengthening is also recommended for those with knee and hip arthritis. Increased stability is the ultimate goal, providing overall support to the muscles and bones around the joints to help protect them from additional stress.
4. Manual therapy
Along with exercises, the physical therapist may apply manual therapy, a hands-on approach where they gently move the muscles and joints for you. These techniques work on areas you aren’t able to target on your own; they can increase flexible movement and diminish pain.
5. Joint replacement surgery
As with most situations, surgery is generally the doctor’s last resort. Since they tend to wear out sooner, on average, people have more knee replacements than any other. The damaged joint is exchanged for an artificial one made of metal and surgical-grade plastic.
Hip replacements have a metal shell and stem with a plastic liner and are available with different options, depending on the application. Most joint replacements last about 20 years.
“The goal of any treatment is to return you to your quality of life and back to doing the things you love to do,” Dr. Reed said. “Both hip and knee replacement surgeries are very successful, and most patients say they wish they’d done it sooner.”
If it’s time to seek help with your osteoarthritis pain, request an appointment online, or call 1-844-228-6683.