May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage is worn down over time, usually from a lifetime of use or as the result of an injury to the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic, inflammatory disease resulting in pain, swelling and functional limitation in the joints. RA can lead to joint damage.
While there is no cure, medications and therapies address the symptoms of arthritis to improve quality of life. Rheumatologist Dr. Susan Goodman answered questions from our social media audience on treatment options for dealing with arthritis.
Q1: What arthritis treatments are safe for young women who may be pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant?
The safety of RA treatment in pregnancy has not been tested, but since 2/3 of women with RA improve while pregnant, some prefer to stop all medications. Nonetheless, many doctors feel comfortable continuing TNF inhibitors (which block the inflammatory response) in severe cases, or using low dose prednisone (another inflammation medication) when symptoms flare.
Q2: Can vitamins or supplements help my arthritis pain?
Although there is no proof that vitamins or supplements are helpful for arthritis, some feel that fish oil and turmeric ease their symptoms.
Q3: What kinds of exercises should I try to help manage my arthritis symptoms?
Low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming, as well as core strengthening programs, can build up muscle to provide support for achy joints.
Q4: When should I consider surgery as an option to address my arthritis?
When joint pain seriously limits activities and you have x-ray evidence of advanced joint damage, then surgery may be appropriate to restore function and treat pain.
Q5: Are there any alternative therapies that can help my pain?
Acupuncture may help with arthritis-related pain through the stimulation of endorphin production. It is a tool to fight pain with minimal side effects, which can be undertaken along with medication treatment.
Discuss with your physician before beginning any of the above therapies or if you have any questions or concerns about arthritis and treatment options.
Dr. Susan Goodman is a rheumatologist and internist at Hospital for Special Surgery. She specializes in the treatment of rheumatic disease such as inflammatory arthritis. Dr. Goodman’s research interests have focused on the perioperative outcomes of rheumatic disease patients undergoing arthroplasty.