by Nancy Alexander, PT
When researching osteoarthritis recently online, I was blown away by all the ads and articles touting the next miracle cure for arthritis. “Heal your joints now!” “Made with safe, patented nutrients!” It went on and on. I had to scroll down to get to the information I really needed. Please know there is no magic cure for osteoarthritis (OA). What’s important to know is that there are ways to manage this condition to help reduce pain and enjoy activities better. Furthermore, these strategies will help you lead a healthier lifestyle for the long term.
Sometimes called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic condition of the joints, affecting approximately 27 million Americans. OA can affect any joint, but it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck. Common risk factors include increasing age, obesity, previous joint injury, overuse of the joint, weak thigh muscles, and genes. The good news is we can control our weight and fitness level right now. We have choices we can make every day! Let’s make the right choices.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, arthritis is defined as painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. It occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. Think of our upstate New York roads in the spring. We have a bumpy ride, right? There are cracks in the pavement and potholes. The cartilage of our joints with OA are just like the road surface. What was once smooth is now rough. Cartilage breaks down and causes fissures at the surface (these are your potholes). It’s important to know that this joint damage cannot be reversed – unless you’re considering surgery for a joint replacement. Sure, there are arthroscopic procedures for major tears in the cartilage that suddenly limit your range of motion and function. But degenerative changes at a joint that occur over time cannot be reversed. Watch out for the so-called “cures” out there – we can’t cure arthritis.
OA affects our lives in a number of ways:
Pain – our joints hurt. This is typically achy but can also be sharp with certain movements.
Stiffness – movement is slower, feels boggy. You may even have limited range of motion. For example, you might not be able to bend your knee all the way or you may not be able to straighten it out completely.
Decreased mobility – it hurts to move, so we avoid it. For example, we park close to stores, and maybe limit how often we leave our home.
Fall risk – the less we move, the weaker we get. Weakness and decreased range of motion leads to increased fall risk.
How can we manage these conditions? OA is typically treated in the following ways:
Medications: These typically begin with over the counter NSAIDS (Eg., Advil). For something stronger, your physician might progress to prescription narcotics, and later steroids, and/or injections.
Modalities: Ice or heat – which is better? Ice is ideal for acute inflammation. That is, when you have a recent injury or sudden pain with movement. Ice helps control inflammation and pain. Heat is very soothing for an arthritic joint – absent of any acute inflammation. For example, I have arthritis at my low back and sitting in a heated seat feels wonderful. However, I have tried this and sometimes it makes the pain worse. That to me is diagnostic as I now know there is some kind of acute inflammation going on. Time for ice. If you’re ever not sure which one to use and you try heat and it makes your pain worse, you have your answer.
Posture education: We want to preserve the natural curves in our spine and joints. Using a lumbar roll and sitting on a surface where are hips are slightly higher than our knees is ideal for a normal spine.
Movement: Engage in general movement throughout your day. This can include but is not limited to household activities, home maintenance, gardening, hobbies, walking.
Exercise: When we’re in pain and feeling stiff, we actually need to move sometimes. We often do the opposite and the cycle of disability begins. This can be counter-intuitive. Listening to your body can help you understand this and you can learn to use movement to your advantage.
Exercise relates to function. It needs to. Movement and exercise help us make our lives better. Exercise can also decrease your reliance on pain medications, too. This can be a big advantage. For your safety, always consult with your physician prior to starting any exercise program.
There are common conditions that we may experience as we get older. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common. OA is not reversible. There is no cure. We can better manage OA through various methods including movement and exercise – this is the preferred long-term approach. Exercise can be targeted to stretch muscles and strengthen key muscle groups including the core. Keep Moving!!
For more information, please contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.