Blog Post

Managing life with osteoarthritis

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Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the nation, affecting more than 50 million adults in the United States. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people age. Arthritis is not a single disease, but rather a term referring to general joint pain or stiffness.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis. The most common is osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the degeneration of cartilage, the soft tissue covering the bones on either side of a joint.

“As cartilage breaks down and wears away, bone is exposed. It is this exposed bone rubbing against exposed bone that causes pain, swelling and eventual loss of motion,” says Matthew Lorei, chief of joint replacement surgery for Temple Orthopedics at Chestnut Hill Hospital. “Over time, joints start to fall out of perfect alignment and pain may become more severe and chronic. While there is no cure, there are many treatment options available for managing joint pain and protecting quality of life.”

Risk factors for osteoarthritis include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury. If you are experiencing consistent joint pain for more than two weeks, have it checked out by an orthopedic specialist. Understanding the cause of your pain and the condition of your joints goes a long way in developing a care plan.

Since osteoarthritis is incurable and progressive, commitment to self-management is critical to minimizing the condition’s impact. For maximum symptom relief and condition management, a combination of daily exercise and medical treatments is recommended. While it may seem counterintuitive when it hurts to move, physical activity is critical to managing the pain and loss of mobility associated with arthritis. Recommendations from Chestnut Hill Hospital to keep your joints working as smoothly as possible include:

  • Do gentle, light exercises each day, including muscle stretches; gentle range of- motion exercises; and gradual, progressive strength training.
  • Adjust your position frequently when working, reading or watching TV. Stand up and walk around every half hour or so.
  • Avoid repetitive movements – overusing a single joint can cause more pain.Manage your weight and don’t smoke. Excess weight contributes to stress on damaged joints, and smoking causes damage to connective tissue.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t undertake activities beyond your ability level.Low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling and water exercise, will help control your weight and improve your mood.
  • Avoid high-impact activities such as running, jumping or basketball.
  • There are many medications available for pain relief, but all have some risk of side effects when taken long-term. Talk with your doctor about non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen or topical analgesics.
  • A physical therapist can help you learn to move and manage your body to minimize pain and mobility loss.
  • When more conservative methods have failed, the best option for relief and improved quality of life may be surgery.

“If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with degenerative arthritis, don’t get discouraged,” says Lorei. “Invest in the right medical care and self-management tools, and you can continue to live a high-quality life for many years.”

Source: Chestnut Hill Hospital

CAPTION: Osteoarthritis is painful but there are tips to help you manage how to live with it. (iStock)