What is the Best Treatment for Osteoarthritis?
If you’re experiencing pain, tenderness, and stiffness in the joints you may be wondering if it’s just a minor issue that will resolve on its own, or if it could be the onset of osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, occurs when the protective cartilage around the ends of your bones breaks down and eventually wears away over time. As the condition becomes more severe, all of the cartilage may wear away, leaving you with bare bones that rub against each other. Osteoarthritis can damage any joint, but it is most likely to affect your hands, knees, hips, feet, and spine.
While the damage to the joints cannot be reversed, the good news is that osteoarthritis symptoms can be managed in most cases. Staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and introducing some natural treatments like physical therapy and an exercise routine could slow the progression of the disease. This will also reduce your osteoarthritis pain levels, and promote a healthy function of the affected joint.
Who is affected by osteoarthritis?
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis symptoms can vary, depending on the situation, but there are few common clues that point to early signs of osteoarthritis in a patient.
- Pain – The affected joints may be painful during or after certain movements. People with osteoarthritis in their hands often experience sharp pains when trying to do activities with their hands.
- Tenderness – When you apply light pressure to the affected area you may experience some tenderness.
- Stiffness – Joint stiffness is normal first thing in the morning or when you’ve been sitting all day, but joint stiffness that lasts longer than an hour may be an early sign of osteoarthritis.
- Instability – The joint may become unstable or give out.
- Swelling – When the tissues around the joint become inflamed it may cause some swelling.
- Clicking & cracking – Cartilage is designed to help your joints move smoothly. When that cartilage wears down, the bones can rub together, sometimes making a cracking or clicking sound.
- Reduced range of motion – People in earlier stages of osteoarthritis may notice that it’s not as easy to move as it once was. When our joints become stiff and painful, it can be difficult to move as we lose flexibility and range of motion.
Over time, as your osteoarthritis becomes more advanced, the pain, swelling, and inflammation will become more intense. Speaking to your healthcare provider sooner rather than later can allow you to begin treatment sooner. This will help relieve your symptoms and possibly slow the progression of the disease.
What are the effects of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can cause other complications, one of which is bone spurs. Bone spurs are bony projections formed along bone edges or bone joints. The symptoms of bone spurs may vary depending on the affected joint. For example, a symptom of knee osteoarthritis is pain whenever you bend or extend your leg. With hip osteoarthritis, the pain is concentrated on the hips. But generally, they limit your body’s range of motion.
What is the best treatment for osteoarthritis?
Severe osteoarthritis can’t be reversed, but treatments are available to reduce your chronic pain and help you move more freely. Sometimes surgical treatment and medications are necessary, but we always like to evaluate natural remedies first, to see if they benefit the patient. Some common forms of natural treatments for severe osteoarthritis include:
- Physical therapy – A physical therapist can teach you exercises specifically designed to strengthen the muscles around your joint. This will also increase your flexibility and range of motion, and reduce osteoarthritis pain levels. In addition to discussing exercises and ways to modify daily activities, your osteoarthritis treatment plans may include manual therapy to help you improve movement around the affected joint.
- Occupational therapy – Osteoarthritis can make simple daily tasks nearly impossible to achieve. An occupational therapist can teach you ways to do those tasks without putting additional stress on your joints. They’re experts at looking at your home environments and modifying things to make your life easier. We may also recommend some assistive devices that are designed to help with tasks that are difficult for you to do.
- Exercise – Low-impact exercise can keep you moving and strengthen the muscles around your joint, making the joint more stable. Walking, cycling, swimming, or water aerobics are excellent options. Of course, if you ever experience pain while doing these activities that could be a sign that you’re overdoing it and you should stop and talk to your physical therapist about an exercise program that would be ideal for you. If you’re not currently active you should also speak to your physical therapist about developing a plan to help you ease into things so you can avoid injury.
- Weight loss – There is a reason osteoarthritis affects . Extra weight puts added stress on your joints, especially your knees and your hips. If you are overweight, reducing your weight by just 5-10% can reduce that stress. Your physical therapist can design a program just for you, to help with your weight loss journey.
- Diet – Many people that suffer from osteoarthritis also have diabetes. High glucose levels can stiffen your cartilage, making it more likely to break down. Diabetes can also cause inflammation, which weakens cartilage and affects the joints. Try to consume a balanced diet that contains fatty fish, dark leafy greens, nuts, and berries. Avoid sugar, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates.
Getting the Help You Need
Rehabilitation physical therapy can be a safe and effective osteoarthritis treatment. If you would like to discuss additional ways to achieve joint pain relief, give us a call or request an appointment. We welcome the opportunity to talk further about your condition.
Article by: Holly Lookabaugh
Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA
Holly Lookabaugh is a practicing physical therapist, partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network with more than 40 years of experience in sports management with young athletes, and is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults. Deuer is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.
- Healthline, What is Inflammatory Arthritis?, https://www.healthline.com/health/inflammatory-arthritis, accessed Dec. 6, 2021
- Mayo Clinic, Bone Spurs, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bone-spurs/symptoms-causes/syc-20370212, accessed Dec. 6, 2021