Osteoarthritis: Taking a Closer Look
We’ve all heard at one time or another about the aches and pains that come with getting older. But when our knees, neck, hips and other joints start acting up, it’s time to ask the question: do I have osteoarthritis?
What is osteoarthritis? What are the symptoms? How is it different from arthritis? And most importantly, if you do have osteoarthritis, how can it be treated? Premier Pain Centers will look at this particularly frustrating condition and advise our patients moving forward.
What is Osteoarthritis?
As the most common joint condition in the world, osteoarthritis is currently impacting the lives of over 200 million people, including 27 million Americans. It also is known as degenerative joint disease. While it can affect any joint in the body, the most commonly affected joints are the knees, hips, lower back, neck and the smaller joints in the fingers and big toes.
Osteoarthritis lies in the construction of our cartilage that covers the ends of each bone in the joints. As a smooth, rubbery material, it provides a buffer for bones that promotes movement and protects the bones from grinding against each other.
While the function of brake pads and joint cartilage is a bit different, the consequences of each wearing away are equally problematic. Think about what happens with brake pads: without brake pads, each time you tried to slow down your car, it would sound agonizingly loud, right? Eventually, the core parts of the brakes would start to deteriorate from regular friction. If left unrepaired, the damage could ruin your brakes.
In patients with osteoarthritis (OA), the cartilage between joints slowly deteriorates. Less cartilage means pain, swelling and restricted mobility. The worse the deterioration, the greater the stress on the bones in the joint. Eventually, bone may break down, develop spurs and have pieces chip off that float inside the joint. Rather than help promote healthy joints, the body of someone with OA will begin to produce a type of protein called cytokines and enzymes that will further damage cartilage. When OA has fully deteriorated the cartilage, the joint is left damaged and is a major cause of pain for the patient. And unlike your brake pads, which can be replaced in an hour or two, your cartilage loss is a much more complicated issue to solve.
How to Tell if You Have Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can affect individuals of all ages, but the individuals at most risk are people over the age of 65. Half the population may develop symptoms of OA in the knee, while 25 percent of people will develop OA in the hip by age 85. One in 12 people over the age of 60 may find symptoms in their hands.
So, what are these symptoms? The first signs are typically sore or stiff joints when you are inactive or have been overly active. From there, you may experience clicking or cracking sounds when a joint bends, mild swelling around the joint and increased pain toward the end of the day.
Hip pain is often felt in the groin or buttocks, even sometimes inside the knee or thigh. Knee OA is often easier to determine, since the pain will be accompanied by a scraping sensation when the knee moves. In the hands, bone spurs are common at the edge of joints and cause swelling, tenderness and redness. An extra red flag will be pain at the base of the thumb. In the feet, your ankles or toes may swell and pain is usually felt within the base joint of your big toe.
If you’re dealing with severe osteoarthritis, chances are you already know it. Tasks that were once routine, such as opening a box of food, climbing stairs or driving a car, will become near impossible. But rather than resigning yourself to a frustrating fate, keep reading to learn how Premier Pain’s doctors can help!
How Premier Pain Treats Osteoarthritis in New Jersey
For patients experiencing symptoms that may indicate osteoarthritis, Premier Pain will first go through a diagnosis process to confirm the condition in an afflicted area. After a physical examination and full health evaluation, your doctor may proceed with a joint aspiration (fluid will be taken from the joint), X-ray or MRI. Each of these can help confirm OA and rule out other potential medical conditions. Once osteoarthritis has been confirmed, the doctor will assess the patient’s case and provide a personalized treatment plan.
At Premier Pain Centers, our pain management mantra is to optimize the comfort of our patients in as non-invasive a way as possible, while providing the best prognosis in the long term. That often means staying away from opioids and surgery, both of which carry risks that could potentially be avoided. Depending on the location of the osteoarthritis, one or many of the recommendations below may be made.
Get Active and Stretch
This may seem counterintuitive, but keeping joints moving is a key aspect of treatment. Keeping your joints active prevents them from stiffening as easily, while exercise that builds the muscles surrounding the joint can help relieve stress. Whether or not you have arthritis, the Department of Health in the United States recommends that everyone gets two-and-a-half hours of exercise every week.
In conjunction with activity, OA sufferers should incorporate a regimen of slow, easy stretching of the joints. Light stretching has been shown to increase the flexibility of the joints and lower levels of stiffness and pain. If you need an activity for this, try tai chi or yoga!
Being overweight causes stress throughout the body, especially to weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees, feet and back. By cutting back caloric intake and increasing activity levels, OA patients should find that weight management has a positive impact on their pain levels.
For minor cases of OA, pain medicine may be prescribed in addition to other treatments. NSAIDs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are common options, as are opioids. However, long-term use of opioids is not considered ideal.
Through physical therapy, the body can be given a range of motion and flexibility exercises, assistive devices such as a brace, hot and cold therapy, and training to improve proper use of the joints.
Injections Into the Joint
A highly effective option, there are various injections that can be given to patients with OA. These can include corticosteroid injections, injections that lubricate the joint and injections that may have an anesthetic included. These injections will last significantly longer than over-the-counter and prescription pain medications.
Coolief Radiofrequency Therapy
A great option for knee osteoarthritis, Coolief refers to cooled radiofrequency therapy. In the knee, the radiofrequency sent out blocks the genicular nerves to stop knee pain stemming from osteoarthritis. With the pain signals blocked, the patient can experience up to several months of comfort. However, joint deterioration still can occur if the patient isn’t careful.
In most cases of osteoarthritis, the pain and discomfort can be managed through the methods mentioned above. But there are cases in which surgery is the best option. Surgery, however, is not recommended for those with weaker health.
Depending on the joints needing treatment, it may be recommended that an osteotomy, joint fusion, total joint replacement or arthroscopy be performed. Choosing among those options is determined on a case-by-case basis and exploration of other treatments should be exhausted before committing to surgery.
Your doctor should be able to provide any information you need prior to undergoing an operation, so contact us today if you want to learn more.
Get Pain Relief From Osteoarthritis in New Jersey
Premier Pain Centers has made safe, long-term pain relief its mission since day one. If you’re worried about having osteoarthritis, or have it and it’s getting worse, we are always happy to provide new treatment options to maximize our patients’ quality of life. With several locations in New Jersey, getting pain relief is easy. Call us today at 732-380-0200.