By Harrison Youmans, MD, Sports Medicine Specialist at Orlando Health Orthopedic Institute
If you have osteoarthritis (OA), you are familiar with the pain, stiffness and swelling this chronic disease can bring, most often in hands, hips and knees. But, while there is currently no cure, there are a variety of ways to address your symptoms that can help enhance mobility and decrease discomfort and pain.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis; and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects more than 30 million Americans.
The disease occurs in joints when cartilage—the tissue that covers the ends of the bones inside the joints—is damaged, causing the bones to rub together. This creates pain, swelling and stiffness. In addition to this damage, bone spurs can grow at the end of the joints and bits can break off, causing additional pain.
Joint overuse from repetitive movement, increasing age, previous injuries and being obese can increase the risk of OA. Those who have family members with OA also are more likely to develop OA.
OA is a disease that develops over time and, at its most severe, can make it difficult to do daily tasks or work. OA is also often associated with other diseases such as depression, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Minimize Symptoms of OA
Although OA doesn’t go away, there are steps you can take to reduce its impact on your life. These 10 tips can help minimize your symptoms and keep you as pain-free and active as possible.
- Be active. It may seem counter-intuitive to move when you’re stiff and sore, but that’s exactly what the CDC recommends—150 minutes per week of moderate exercise that has moderate or low impact, such as swimming, biking or walking, or attending a physical activity program at a park district or community center. The lower the impact, the better, so pool exercise is best. Physical activity can reduce pain and stiffness.
- Understand OA. Become educated on arthritis and how it may affect your life. The CDC recommends several educational programs that can help.
- Lose weight. Obesity and being overweight put extra pressure on your joints. Every pound of excess weight puts 4 pounds of pressure on your knees. If you lose 10 pounds, you rid your knees of 40 pounds of pressure with every step, which can ease joint discomfort.
- Stretch. Gentle and slow stretching improves flexibility and can decrease stiffness and pain. The Arthritis Foundation suggests yoga and tai chi as ways to manage stiffness.
- Use medication. Pain and anti-inflammatory medicines, both over-the-counter and prescription, can help ease pain and improve movement. Medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce inflammation. If you’re currently taking other medicines, or you have other health concerns, talk with your doctor about possible drug interactions before taking new medicines.
- Go to physical and/or occupational therapy. Learn exercises to improve your flexibility and range of motion, and self-treatments that ease pain. Assistive devices also can help you manage daily living (jar openers, canes, steering wheel grips, etc.).
- Get a massage. A gentle massage on the joints can increase blood flow. If your joints are painful, consider seeing a massage therapist who specializes in treating those with arthritis.
- Use heat and ice. A warm bath or a cold compress can help relieve joint pain. Alternating heat and cold may bring additional relief.
- Eat for joint health. Some foods fight inflammation, so eating them can help you feel better. Beans, flax seeds, omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. tuna and salmon), walnuts and green leafy vegetables are some that are particularly noted.
- Consider joint surgery. Knees and hips that have been severely damaged by OA can be repaired or replaced surgically. New treatments include custom-designed implants to replace lost cartilage.
Studies show Americans have a 50 percent chance of developing OA. This makes it important to understand the disease and know different ways to treat its symptoms.
Originally published by Orlando Health; reprinted with permission.