As we go through life, we may find that over time, some joints become painful to move, or they may no longer have the full range of motion that they once had. These may be symptoms of osteoarthritis. Luckily, there are ways to lessen the discomfort.
Osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear” type of arthritis, and is the loss of articular cartilage, said Marc Wahlquist, MD, of the TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute. In the development of osteoarthritis, the articular cartilage at the ends of our bones develops fissures or cracks over time, and eventually gets thinner and wears away. It’s also different than rheumatoid, psoriatic, or septic arthritis, and is also different from arthritis as a result of dysplasia or growth abnormalities.
How do I Know if I Have Arthritis?
There are several clinical signs and symptoms of arthritis, said Dr. Wahlquist. One of the most common symptoms is pain that is localized to the affected joint. For hip arthritis, the pain is typically localized to the groin. Another symptom is having pain that becomes worse when the joint bears weight, and improves with rest. This sort of pain can materialize in the form of swelling joints, grinding or crunching in the joint, “start up” stiffness where the joint is stiff at the beginning of a movement, and some people will also have night time aches and pains. Other signs of arthritis are tenderness localized to the affected joint that does not radiate to other parts of the body, and joint deformity such as bowleggedness or knock-knees.
What can I do to Treat my Arthritis Symptoms?
There are many treatment options for osteoarthritis, including physical therapy, weight loss, bracing, medication, and education.
The goals of physical therapy are to increase and maintain current function of the joint and prevent the condition from becoming worse. The therapy includes both range of motion and strengthening exercises, which help prevent contractures and help to provide nutrition to the cartilage. Several controlled trials have also shown improvement in function, pain, and strength compared to those who did not do strengthening exercises.
Weight loss is another treatment to relieve the symptoms of arthritis. The knee experiences four times the body weight with every step, so it makes sense that weight reduction would result in improved knee symptoms – although this hasn’t been proven conclusively, said Dr. Wahlquist. However, changes in diet combined with exercise have been shown to improve knee pain and function compared to diet alone and exercise alone. In addition, weight loss has been shown to decrease operative risks when it comes to joint replacement.
A simple arthritis symptom treatment is a simple elastic knee brace, which can provide support to the knee and improve symptoms. There are also more complicated, hinged braces specific to arthritis known as “unloader” braces. These try to shift the load form the arthritic part of the knee to the part of the knee with intact cartilage. These have been shown to be helpful in reducing pain and increasing function, but are only effective when actually worn on the knee.
Another way to relieve the pain of arthritis symptoms is with medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Acetaminophen is a non-narcotic pain medication that is generally safe at doses below four grams per day, and ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
Other options include steroid injections, which can be beneficial in the short term, but should not be given too close together. Dr. Wahlquist said they should not be given any closer together than three months in the same joint. Injections of hyaluronic acid (HA) are also thought to help lubricate the joint, but these are only approved by the Food & Drug Administration for knee arthritis.
What should I do if I think I may have arthritis?
If you think that you have arthritis, make an appointment with your doctor.
Hear More from Dr. Wahlquist
Check out the video below to hear Dr. Wahlquist speak in more detail about osteoarthritis at a recent presentation from TriHealth's Physician Speaker series.