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If you have seen the Disney movie, “The Little Mermaid,” you will be all too familiar with the heart wrenching story of a young woman willing to give up her identity to gain a human soul. Perhaps you will recall the Little Mermaid’s visit to the Sea Witch who sells the mermaid a potion that gives the Little Mermaid legs, but warns that consuming the potion will cause the mermaid to feel as if a sword is passing through her body and that she will constantly feel as if she is walking on sharp knives. If you suffer from osteoarthritis, this may not seem like such a fairy tale.
Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis affecting millions worldwide, It is caused by the breakdown of cartilage on the ends of the bones over time. Although the process cannot be reversed, symptoms can be managed and treatments can slow the progression of the disease and improve joint function.
When your joints hurt, exercise may be the last thing on your mind, but studies show that even simple activities like taking a walk or a low impact exercise class can reduce the pain of OA. Exercise builds muscles around joints affected by OA and helps to support them and relieve pain. Exercises involving a range of motions help to reduce stiffness and improve flexibility and aerobic exercise helps to raise energy and reduce weight.
Excess weight means additional stress for weight-bearing joints like the knees feet, hips and back. Weight loss can help to decrease pain and prevent further joint damage. The general guideline for weight loss is to eat less and work out more.
Who couldn’t use a good stretch? Gentle stretching of the joints can lead to increased flexibility, and reduced stiffness and pain. Yoga and tai chi offer great stretching exercises to combat stiffness.
Analgesics. Analgesics are pain reliever including opioids, acetaminophen and tramodol. They are available by prescription and over the counter.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These drugs ease inflammation and pain. They include ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and celecoxib. They can be obtained by prescription or over the counter.
- Corticosteroids. These are very powerful anti-inflammatory medications and are taken orally or by direct injection into a joint in a doctor’s office.
- Hyaluronic Acid. Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in joint fluid and acts as a lubricant and shock absorber. It can be injected in a doctor’s office.
Occupational and physical therapists can help manage pain by instructing patients on ways to properly use their joints, suggesting and providing heat and cooling therapies, demonstrating a range of motion exercises and prescribing assistive devices. Assistive devices include everything from canes, walkers, and splints to long-handled shoe horns, jar openers, and steering wheel grips. Shoe orthotics and custom knee braces are also included under this heading and can be fitted by a therapist or doctor.
Natural and Alternative Therapies
If you want to go natural, you can choose to address symptoms with acupuncture, acupressure, nutritional supplements, hydrotherapy, massage, and relaxation techniques, all of which have been used by OA patients to improve their well-being.
Surgery is an option for repairing and replacing extremely damaged joints, usually hips and knees.
Studies show that maintaining a positive outlook can increase ability to handle pain and boost the immune symptom. If you are an OA sufferer, or know one, we would love to hear how you maintain your positive attitude. Let us know!