Arthritis Relief, Treatment, Surgical Options Exist

Arthritis is a term derived from two Greek words: “arthro”, which means joint, an “itis”, which means inflammation.

There are many types of arthritis. The most common type is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease or DJD.

To some degree, DJD can be considered part of the normal aging process. It is unclear why some patients are so much more severely affected, and at an earlier age, than others.

There is a family tendency, but no true genetic pattern of inheritance. It is also unclear why some people will have the condition bilaterally (about 50%) while others will only have it on one side.

Once a person has osteoarthritis, we know the disease will progress. It will sometimes progress very slowly over several years. Other times it may progress rapidly over the course of a few months.

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We can slow the progression of the disease in different ways.

These would include losing weight, wearing well-cushioned shoes, and participating in a low-impact exercise program, with exercises such as riding a stationary bike or road bike, walking in a swimming pool, or doing aquagym. Walking on a treadmill is easier on arthritic joints than walking on the sidewalk.

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Various nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can reduce inflammation and allow for greater activity. They all have potential side effects and the longer NSAIDs are taken and the higher the dose, the greater the risk of side effects.

Many other drugs can be given by injection into the joint. These often provide relief, but it is usually temporary. Over time, the disease will progress and the injections will lose their effectiveness.

A brace on an arthritic knee can relieve pain and allow for more activity. A cane or walking stick used in the opposite hand may make walking less painful.

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If the symptoms progress despite the above measures, the ultimate solution is total joint replacement surgery. Arthroscopic surgery is not effective in treating arthritis of the joint.

The decision to proceed with this surgery is elective and belongs to the patient.

In general, there are three reasons why it may be time to consider this surgery:

  • The need for strong painkillers.
  • The presence of pain at rest, which can interfere with sleep.
  • The presence of pain that interferes with activity level, especially walking.

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The total joint replacement surgical technique has improved considerably in recent years. Most operated patients are now able to get up and go home the same day.

If you need help with arthritis pain of any level, talk to an orthopedic surgeon about your options.

Mark Buseck, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon practicing at Saint Vincent Hospital.

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