Treatment can be very effective. Successful treatment usually involves a combination of exercise, lifestyle modifications, pain relief measures, and medications. In advanced cases of osteoarthritis, surgery may be necessary to restore movement to the joint.
Exercise is one of the best ways to treat OA pain. When performed properly, exercise can reduce joint pain and improve mobility, as well as helping improve mood and overall fitness. Improving muscle strength can also make the affected joint more stable. The type of exercise that is best depends on the site and severity of your osteoarthritis symptoms. Your doctor or physical therapist can show you the types of exercises that are appropriate for you. Examples of some helpful activities include walking and swimming.
Lifestyle modifications you can make to help improve the symptoms of OA involve reducing the impact of the factors in your life that contribute to or exacerbate your joint pain. If you are overweight, losing weight is a great way to take some of the stress off of the weight-bearing joints of the lower body. A doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian can help you with a plan to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.
If you work in a job that places stress on your affected joint, you may want to consider changing jobs or finding alternative ways to complete your tasks. Also, it is important to take breaks and rest your joints periodically, no matter what your job. Using splints, braces, or other supports from time to time can provide a way to give joints a temporary break from use.
There are several non-drug pain relief measures that can help to relieve acute pain without medication:
- Applying heat or cold to the joint. Generally, heat (often applied with hot packs or hot water bottles) helps improve circulation to the joint and ease pain and stiffness while cold (applied with ice bags) helps to reduce pain and swelling caused by inflammation.
- Massage is another way to relieve joint pain. A massage therapist who is trained in how to treat arthritis can increase blood flow to the joint and improve pain by lightly massaging the muscles that surround the joint.
- A treatment called TENS (for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) stimulates nerves in the region of the joint through the surface of the skin (transcutaneously) and can prevent them from sending pain signals.
There are also several medication options for dealing with the pain of osteoarthritis. For short-term relief of acute inflammation and stiffness, over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib can be used. Another commonly used drug is prescription pain reliever tramadol (Ultram), while mild narcotics such as codeine or hydrocodone may also provide some relief when NSAIDs aren't enough.
Continued on page 7: How can I prevent osteoarthritis?