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Osteoarthritis: It’s all about the joints

by on January 5, 2015

 

aying active -- such as walking -- maintaining a healthy weight and other steps you can take may slow progression of osteoarthritis, help relieve pain and improve joint function.

Staying active — such as walking — maintaining a healthy weight and other steps you can take may slow progression of osteoarthritis, help relieve pain and improve joint function.

If you’re in your mid-40s or so, your body has already probably alerted you to the fact that it’s not going to always feel like it did when you were younger. It’s a fact – our bodies were not made for wear and tear over an indefinite period of time.

The comedian Jack Benny once quipped, “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.” Those who have “Old Arthur” can smile and understand.

Osteoarthritis affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. Although it can damage any joint in your body, osteoarthritis most commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips and spine.

The disorder gradually worsens, and no cure exists. But staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and other steps you can take may slow progression of the disease, help relieve pain and improve joint function.

Symptoms often develop slowly and worsen over time. They include:

  • Pain. Your joint may hurt during or after movement.
  • Tenderness. Your joint may feel tender when you apply light pressure to it.
  • Stiffness. Joint stiffness may be most noticeable when you wake up in the morning or after a period of inactivity.
  • Loss of flexibility. You may not be able to move your joint through its full range of motion.
  • Grating sensation. You may hear or feel a grating sensation when you use the joint.
  • Bone spurs. Extra bits of bone, which feel like hard lumps, may form around the affected joint.

 

Factors that may increase your risk of osteoarthritis include older age, sex (women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis), obesity, joint injuries, certain occupations that involve repetitive motions, genetics, bone deformities and having other diseases, such as diabetes or other rheumatic diseases such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

Exercising and achieving a healthy weight are the best and most important ways to treat osteoarthritis. Your doctor may also suggest physical therapy, occupational therapy, braces or shoe inserts, or a chronic pain management class.

Those who suffer from osteoarthritis have a lot of options in lifestyle changes and home treatments that can help reduce their symptoms:

  • Exercise. Exercise can increase your endurance and strengthen the muscles around your joint, making your joint more stable. Try walking, biking or swimming. If you feel new joint pain, stop. New pain that lasts for hours after you exercise probably means you’ve overdone it, but it doesn’t mean you should stop exercising altogether.
  • Lose weight. Even a small amount of weight loss can relieve some pressure and stress on your joints and reduce pain. Talk to your doctor about healthy ways to lose weight. Most people combine changes in their diet with increased exercise.
  • Heat and cold. Both heat and cold can relieve pain in your joint. Heat also relieves stiffness, and cold can relieve muscle spasms and pain.
  • Over-the-counter pain creams. Creams and gels available at pharmacies may provide temporary relief from osteoarthritis pain. Some of these numb the pain by creating a hot or cool sensation. Pain creams work best on joints that are close to the surface of your skin, such as knees and fingers.
  • Assistive devices. A cane may take weight off your knee or hip as you walk. Carry the cane in the hand opposite the leg that hurts. Gripping or grabbing tools may make it easier to work in the kitchen if you have osteoarthritis in your fingers.
  • Tai chi and yoga. These movement therapies involve gentle exercises and stretches combined with deep breathing. When led by a knowledgeable instructor, these therapies are safe. Avoid moves that cause pain in your joints.

 

Lifestyle changes and certain treatments are keys to managing pain and disability, but another major component to treatment is your own outlook on life. Your ability to cope despite pain and disability caused by osteoarthritis often determines how much of an impact “Old Arthur” will have on your everyday life. Talk to your doctor if you’re feeling frustrated – he or she may have ideas about how to cope or refer you to someone who can help.

From → Wellness

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