Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the joint loses cartilage and the bones on either side of the joint begin to rub together, causing pain and further damage. There are different tactics used to reduce OA pain and it is often a combination of approaches that is the most effective.
A consultation with a pain management specialist may be necessary if OA pain is chronic. Pain medication is often part of a multi-dimensional approach to reducing pain. For acute issues with OA pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications. Your doctor may recommend taking ibuprofen and acetaminophen together or alternating between the two. Ibuprofen works to reduce inflammation, whereas acetaminophen can reduce pain signals. This allows them to work better in conjunction than if they were taken separately. For chronic OA pain, your doctor might recommend prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medications, such as COX-2 inhibitors. If your pain is limited to a couple of specific joints, steroid injections can be helpful. Other options for some joints, such as the knees, are injections of hyaluronic acid. These injections help lubricate the joint and reduce the friction that causes inflammation and pain. There are some topical options that might help, too. NSAID cream can be a better option than oral pain relievers since it does not affect the stomach.
Lifestyle changes, such as increased physical activity and eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help, regardless of which joints are affected. Reduction in body mass can be critical for reducing pain when OA affects weight-bearing joints. Not only may it help reduce pain now, but it can also slow the progression of arthritis. Since excess body fat and certain foods are associated with increased inflammation, changes in your diet and weight can still have a positive impact on OA when it occurs in other joints. For many people with OA, physical activity can be difficult or impossible in some cases. The most gentle exercise you can do is swimming. When you are in the water, you are virtually weightless and the water may allow you to have a better range of motion than you normally have. An anti-inflammatory diet eliminates processed foods and focuses on good fats. Foods with omega-3s, such as oily fish, also have anti-inflammatory properties. Ingredients such as garlic, turmeric, and ginger also work at fighting inflammation.
When OA pain becomes severe and hinders your ability to be mobile, it may be time to consider surgery. The surgical options will depend on the specific joint. Severe arthritis in large joints, such as the shoulders, hips, and knees, often benefits from a partial or full replacement. A joint replacement involves removing the affected joint and replacing it with an artificial joint. The material used in artificial joints is usually some combination of metal, ceramic, and/or plastic. A partial replacement involves only one side of the joint being replaced. Joint replacements are less common or non-existent for many smaller joints. Sometimes finger and ankle joints can be replaced, but it is uncommon. Smaller joints may benefit from a fusion. The process of a joint fusion requires the surgeon to remove the affected bone on both sides of the joint and connect the two bones together with a pin. Fusions will often dramatically reduce pain, but the procedure will eliminate movement of the joint.
A combination of pain medication and lifestyle changes is often the initial way to manage OA pain. If the pain becomes severe, surgical interventions may be necessary to reduce pain and increase functioning.
For more information on osteoarthritis treatment, contact your doctor.