Osteoarthritis: What You Know Could Save Your Joints!

Main Category: Arthritis / Rheumatology
Also Included In: Bones / Orthopedics;  Rehabilitation / Physical Therapy
Article Date: 31 Mar 2011 – 3:00 PDT

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According to the Arthritis Foundation, 27 million Americans live with osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis which involves a mechanical “wear and tear” of the cartilage that lines the inside of our joints and which, over time, can result in damage to the connective tissue and bone around the joint. The more you know about the condition, the greater your chance for success in finding the help that you need.

“The pain of arthritis is usually described as a deep ache or throbbing joint pain that is often worse upon getting up in the morning. In addition, sufferers may also experience muscle weakness around the arthritic joint and functional limitations, such as difficulty getting up and walking,” says Dr. David Wang, a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia.

A variety of non-surgical treatments are available for those who suffer from osteoarthritis:

Physical Therapy and Exercise– An individually customized exercise program coordinated through a physical therapist can reduce the pain and functional limitations caused by osteoarthritis by maximizing strength, balance, and joint stability.

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment– This specialized, hands-on method of diagnosis and treatment can improve muscle balance, joint alignment, blood flow, and the efficiency of the lymphatic system to naturally remove chronic inflammatory agents and excess fluid.

Anti-Inflammatory Dietand Dietary Supplements – The acute inflammation response after an injury is actually essential to good healing. However, chronic inflammation contributes to many debilitating illnesses, including osteoarthritis. Adopting a proper diet and taking certain nutritional supplements can go a long way toward alleviating inflammation. It is important to take appropriately high levels of vitamins E, C, and D; minerals zinc, magnesium, and copper; omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and flaxseed oil); oleic acid (present in extra virgin olive oil); glucosamine and chondroitin; and avocado/soybean unsaponifiables(e.g., Avosoy). In addition, it is best to avoid processed foods, including refined starch and sugar, and excessive amounts of high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats, and trans fats, all of which can promote chronic inflammation.

Medications– Anti-inflammatories, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and aspirin (Bayer), as well as acetaminophen (Tylenol) are good first-line medications for treating osteoarthritis. Narcotic medications (Codeine, Vicodin, Percocet, etc.) can sometimes be prescribed, but should be done so very judiciously due to side-effects and abuse potential.

Acupuncture – Insertion of thin needles into specific “acupuncture points,” both with and without electrical stimulation, has been shown through multiple, well-controlled, randomized trials over the last 20 years to both reduce pain and improve function in patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis.

Conventional Joint Injections– These injections are commonly done and can provide moderate to significant relief usually for a couple of months at a time. They include steroid (cortisone) and viscosupplementation (e.g. Synvisc, Supartz, Euflexxa, Orthovisc) injections.

Regenerative Injections– Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy and prolotherapy are two unique types of regenerative injections that may actually promote natural healing of the cartilage and surrounding ligaments, tendons and muscles. PRP therapy involves drawing a small amount of a patient’s own blood, centrifuging it to concentrate the platelets – which contain the growth factors responsible for tissue regeneration – and then injecting it into the injured area to optimize healing. This process has successfully helped such athletes as golfer Tiger Woods and Superbowl champion wide-receiver Hines Ward, among others, to recover from their injuries more quickly. Prolotherapy is a similar injection method, which uses simple solutions other than blood for healing injured tendons, ligaments, and joints. A growing body of medical research has demonstrated the effectiveness of these therapies in treating painful conditions of the neck, shoulder, elbow, hand, lower back, hip, knee, and ankle.

“Most people believe that they “just have to live with the pain” brought on by osteoarthritis, but today, that’s just not the case,” says Dr. Wang. “There is a great deal you can do to delay the onset and minimize the impact of osteoarthritis. The key is to find a medical team that truly listens and cares and has expertise in a wide range of diagnostic and treatment options to customize a program that works best for you.”


The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine

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