It can be hard to live with osteoarthritis. Fortunately, there are ways to control, and even reduce, its symptoms.
Are you one of the almost 27 million Americans who have osteoarthritis? If so, you’ve probably experienced the pain, swelling and limited range of motion associated with the condition, which typically affects the hands, knees, hips and spine. The most common form of arthritis, it can develop over time from overuse or being overweight. Osteoarthritis can also be the result of a traumatic injury or a genetic predisposition.
While there may not be a cure, there are some ways to alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms. Here are five tips for managing osteoarthritis, from Jay R. Lieberman, MD, chief of USC Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC and chair and professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC:
1. Reduce pain with over-the-counter medications.
Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are helpful tools for relieving arthritis pain.
2. Get moving.
Physical activity helps you build muscle and strengthen joints. It also prevents stiffness, improves your posture, relieves stress and helps you lose weight — all of which can help alleviate your symptoms.
If you already exercise, consider switching activities to see if it helps reduce pain.
“If you have pain with impact sports, for example, you may want to switch to swimming or try using an elliptical machine,” Dr. Lieberman says.
3. Shed extra pounds.
People who are overweight are at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. Excess weight also increases the load that you put on your joints, which can exacerbate osteoarthritis symptoms.
“By losing weight, you reduce the force across the joints, which helps with pain,” Dr. Lieberman says.
4. Do your homework before trying dietary supplements.
Before turning to dietary supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and SAMe (S-Adenosyl-L-methionine) for osteoarthritis, it’s worth reading up on their effectiveness. To date, there is no definitive research showing that these three popular supplements decrease joint pain. In fact, a large National of Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that people with knee osteoarthritis who took glucosamine or chondroitin did not experience a significant improvement in pain over two years. The NIH also warns that glucosamine and chondroitin may interact with the blood-thinning drug warfarin (Coumadin). However, some patients do seem to obtain some pain relief when taking these agents.
5. Consult an orthopedic surgeon.
If your pain continues despite your best efforts, consult with an expert who can offer advice, prescribe medications, possibly give you an injection to relieve inflammation or, when necessary, discuss surgical options.
“Working with an expert who understands osteoarthritis and its causes can help you manage the disease and receive the treatment needed to improve your quality of life,” Dr. Lieberman says.