Arthritis: What is it and How to Live With it
Welcome back to our 2 part blog series on arthritis. In our last blog, we looked at the two most common types of arthritis; osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the causes and complications of each. Today, we’ll spend a few minutes going over how a diagnosis of arthritis is made and the different treatment options currently available.
When it comes to diagnosing arthritis, your physician will start with a thorough physical examination and will take note of symptoms such as muscle weakness, joint tenderness, limited mobility (both with and without assistance), other joints which may be painful and/or swollen, a “grating” or “grinding” sensation or sound that occurs when the joint is manipulated, and more. If arthritis is suspected, your next stop will be the x-ray machine and, potentially, the laboratory for a blood draw. Lab tests are especially helpful in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis may be performed.
If your orthopaedic surgeon determines that you do have arthritis, one of the next steps will be finding ways to manage both pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen, naproxen) are typically the first step in this process. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) also works for controlling pain. There are prescription medications available which your doctor may discuss with you depending on the severity of your symptoms.
There are a number of newer prescription medications designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. If that’s what you’ve been diagnosed with, your orthopaedic surgeon may suggest starting on one of those to help control your body’s immune attack on itself. These types of medications come in a variety of forms, ranging from pills to self-injectables to intravenous (IV) infusions that you receive at your doctor’s office.
Certain exercises and physical therapy can also be used to help decrease stiffness and to strengthen muscles that have weakened around the joint(s). Unfortunately, the pain and weakness may get to the point where assistance devices such as canes, walkers, and crutches may be needed to assist with mobility.
If the arthritis is severe enough and other treatment methods are not working, your orthopaedic surgeon may suggest surgery as a next step. There are several different types of surgical procedures that are used to treat arthritis, such as realignment of the joint(s), removing the diseased/damaged joint lining, replacing the entire joint (this is known as total joint replacement), and fusing the ends of the bones within the joint together (this inhibits movement of the joint all together which, in turn, can help relieve pain).
If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, don’t lose hope! There are so many different treatment options and combinations available today than have ever existed in the past, making the burden of living with arthritis not as difficult as it once was.
Here at Nebraska Orthopaedic Center, we have teams of specialists, from orthopaedic surgeons to pain management specialists to physical therapists, who come together to create customized treatment plans for all our patients. There’s hope out there– let us help you find it!