Diseases > Osteoarthritis | OA > Treatment | Osteoarthritis | OA
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What can I do about Osteoarthritis?
The first thing is don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Although you might have been diagnosed with OA, you are not alone. Luckily, there are effective treatments available. Even if they don’t cure OA, they can make living with the condition much more comfortable.
If you have OA or think you may have OA, see your family doctor. In many cases, your family doctor can help you manage OA. In some cases, your family doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist is a specialist doctor who is an expert in treating arthritis.
Here are some recommendations on what you should do:
- Learn as much as you can about this disease. Education is very powerful and we’ve aimed to develop this RheumInfo website to be accessible and easy to understand for everyday people living with OA and other forms of arthritis
- Attend your family doctor and/or rheumatologist appointments regularly
- Learn about the medications used to treat OA. The RheumInfo website has many interactive and valuable tools to help you understand these medications and their impact on your disease
- Learn how to protect your joints and how to use them properly
- Identify activities that flare your joint pain and do your best to avoid them
- If you are overweight, losing even 10 pounds can make a big difference to your weight-bearing joints
Treatment of Osteoarthritis
People with OA can lead active and productive lives with the right kinds of treatment. There are a number of treatment options available, but a mixed or multimodal approach is common. Whatever treatment approach you choose it is essential to remember two key points: no medication is known to change the natural course of the disease. But, the right kind of treatment can help keep your joints as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
The goal of treatment is to keep the joints as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Once the damage from OA is done it cannot be reversed with medicine. We want to stop OA before it damages your joints. We also want to help keep the joints moving smoothly to help decrease joint pain and limitations in mobility and functioning.
Here’s an analogy. Think of the wear and tear on a car tire. Once a tire has gone bald, the rubber can’t be replaced. You can always put more air in the tire to optimize its functioning. But the bald rubber can’t be fixed. The same is true with OA. Once the cartilage in a joint is damaged, it can’t be fixed. Medications can help make the joint work as best as possible, but the damage can’t be reversed.
Medications for Osteoarthritis
Most medications for OA are geared towards pain control. Unfortunately, there are no medications available that have been shown to alter the progression of the disease. That means that once a joint is damaged, no medicine is able to undo or repair the damage. However, medications can help make living with OA much more comfortable and help to improve function and mobility.
For more information about specific medications used to treat OA, refer to the “pictopamphlets” in the Medications Section of this website.
Non-prescription analgesic medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) only control pain. They do nothing to control the disease or to prevent further joint damage. However, this type of medication can be effective for some people with OA. It has been shown to be safe when used even for long periods of time.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs are medications that reduce the inflammation of joints caused by OA. They also help to reduce symptoms such as pain. Luckily there are about 20 different anti-inflammatory medications available. So if one doesn’t work for you, try another.
Some patients benefit from cortisone injections directly into a joint. This type of treatment can reduce the pain and swelling in joints affected by OA. It can take up to 24 or 48 hours before you feel the effects of a corticosteroid injection. Once the effects set in, they can last for a few days up to a few months – it depends on the individual person and the joint. Usually, corticosteroid injections are limited to 3 or 4 in a single joint per year.
When non-prescription analgesics and NSAIDs are not enough to control joint pain caused by OA, stronger medicines called opioids may be used. These should be discussed with your doctor. While opioids can be very effective at controlling pain, they should be used with caution. These drugs can cause dependence and have been associated with drug abuse. Examples of opioids include codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.
Exercises for Osteoarthritis
Physical therapy and exercise are an important part of your overall treatment plan. The right exercises can actually improve the pain and stiffness in your joints. They can also reduce fatigue and the emotional distress of OA. Physical therapy and exercise can help protect the joints by strengthening the muscles around them. They should be done daily to derive the maximum benefit.
Moderate stretching can help reduce pain and keep the joint flexible. Aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming or bicycling works your heart and increases your overall fitness. It is also an important part of keeping a healthy weight.
A trained arthritis physiotherapist can help design an exercise program tailored to you and your needs.
- Exercise and Arthritis: An article by arthritis physiotherapist, Marlene Thompson
- Exercising in a Flare: Another excellent article written by Marlene Thompson on how to cope with flares through your exercise routine.
Protecting your joints
If you have OA, it’s important to protect your joints from further damage. There are two important ways you can do this:
- Learn your limitations – recognize activities that flare your joint pain and do what you can to avoid them.
- Learn how to use your joints properly – a trained arthritis physiotherapist or occupational therapist can help you align your joints properly. This can go a long way to reduce the stress on your joints. A trained physiotherapist can also help fit you with assistive devices such as walking aids, braces, or splints to support your joints.
Natural or Home Remedies for Osteoarthritis
Many people with OA turn to natural remedies and/or complementary therapies to help relieve their pain. Glucosamine tablets, magnets, energy bracelets, MSM, and acupuncture are common examples. It’s important to know that there are no known natural remedies or complementary therapies that have been proven to help OA in any significant way. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Remember, once a joint is damaged by OA, it can’t be fixed by any medication, natural remedy or complementary therapy.
Nevertheless, some people with OA feel better when they use these therapies. If you choose to use natural remedies or complementary therapies, you should inform your doctor. Some medications may interact with these products.
Surgery for Osteoarthritis
In the most severe cases of OA the joints are so badly damaged that they lose their ability to function. When that happens, surgery may be necessary to restore a person’s mobility and quality of life.
Surgery is arguably the most effective form of treatment for OA. It usually involves replacing a damaged joint with an artificial joint, most commonly the hip or knee. Surgery can help people with severe, advanced OA by reducing pain, improving their mobility and restoring their functioning. While surgery has revolutionized the treatment of OA, it is also associated with potential risks. You should talk to your doctor to find out if surgery is right for you.
Diet for Osteoarthritis
Questions about diet and arthritis are very common. We all want to know what we can do to help ourselves. Can we change our diet to help our arthritis? Changing our diet gives us a sense of control over a disease which often seems to have a mind of its own.
Unfortunately, there is no diet that has been proven to significantly alter the course of OA or other types of arthritis. Following the basics of healthy eating can help improve health and well-being in everyone, including those with OA.
Weight loss for Osteoarthritis
Keeping a healthy weight can help to reduce the load on your weight-bearing joints including the hips, knees and feet. Even a modest amount of weight loss (about 10 pounds) can help reduce the load on your weight-bearing joints. This is especially important for your knees, hips and feet.
Losing weight – and keeping it off – can be a real challenge for many people. A balanced approach that includes healthy eating as well as exercise is usually the most effective. If you need help losing weight, consider joining a weight loss program or a support group. Some of these might have costs associated with them.
Alcohol and Osteoarthritis
We all like to share a glass of wine, a beer, or a spirit from time to time. Unfortunately, due to the nature of OA, some people may turn to alcohol to help cope with the pain and distress. Alcoholic beverages are not an effective treatment for OA. Sometimes, they can also interact with your medications.
Smoking and Osteoarthritis
Cigarette smoking, whether you have OA or not, has no positive effects on any aspect of your health. Smoking is recognized as a risk factor for heart disease. Many people who develop OA are older and have other conditions that increase their risk of heart disease. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. If you are a smoker with OA, quitting could be one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health.