WebMD.com—June 3, 2012
Osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear form of arthritis, affects one in two Americans during the course of their lifetime. Marked by pain, swelling, and reduced motion in the joints, OA typically strikes the hands, knees, hips or spine -- but any joint is at risk.
Although there are no drugs to alter the course of OA once the process is set in motion, many medications and therapies can help you feel better and stay active.
Managing Your Joint Pain
“The three most common OA culprits are excess weight, joint misalignment, or an injury such as a tear in one of the knee ligaments,” says Howard Hillstrom, PhD. He leads the Leon Root, MD, Motion Analysis Laboratory at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
These are not mutually exclusive. “It is possible to have a double- or triple-whammy, such as being obese and having misaligned hips, knees, or ankles,” he says. When any of your joints are not aligned, it places more stress on the joint.
“Matching the right treatment with the suspected origin from the start will lead to more success,” he says. “Let’s say a woman has never had an injury, but she is 50 pounds overweight, and it hurts her the most when she walks downstairs,” he says. In this case, weight loss and exercise are the recommended treatments.
Other OA Treatments
Physical and occupational therapy along with assistive devices such as knee braces, canes and/or shoe insoles can help correct joint misalignment, and strengthen muscles surrounding achy joints.
For example, people with knee OA are often told to strengthen the quadriceps muscle (the big muscle on the front of the thigh). This can help insulate the joint from stress. It’s best to learn the correct way to exercise from a physical therapist or trainer to avoid overdoing it and getting injured, Hillstrom says.
Many people also turn to alternative therapies to treat OA. For years, much hope was pinned on the use of two supplements -- glucosamine and chondroitin -- to help OA pain and possibly slow joint destruction. Glucosamine and chondroitin are part of normal cartilage, which serves as a cushion between the bones in a joint. A large government-funded study looking at the benefits of this duo did not pan out. That said, some people do see relief with these supplements, Hillstrom says. “They can’t hurt you and they may help.” Several weeks of treatment is typically needed to see any effect.
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