Although the damage produced by osteoarthritis to cartilage is irreversible, there are numerous medications and therapies which can alleviate your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Surgery is also available for osteoarthritis accompanied by unbearable pain, as well as for patients whose disease is unresponsive to non-invasive treatments. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor will recommend you one or a combination of the treatments below.
The following drugs have been found effective for the long-term management of osteoarthritis:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can greatly relieve mild joint pain, whereas for severe pain, stronger ones are available by prescription
- analgesics – this category of medication includes acetaminophen and opioids
- antidepressants – duloxetine, sold under the name of Cymbalta, has shown significant efficiency in alleviating chronic pain
Corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid injections may be recommended to patients whose discomfort cannot be managed by using only conventional treatments such as medication. After numbing the area, the doctor will inject the substance in your joint. It is worthy of note that a person cannot receive more than 3 or 4 cortisone injections per year, as this medication may actually worsen osteoarthritis in large doses. As for hyaluronic acid injections, they work by providing some cushioning and lubrication in the affected joint and thereby temporarily relieving pain.
There are multiple therapies people suffering from osteoarthritis are highly encouraged to undergo for pain relief, such as:
- Physical therapy. By following a personalized exercise program under the guidance of a physical therapist, your range of motions will expand, the muscles around the affected joint will strengthen, and the pain you experience will reduce in intensity. Furthermore, light exercise you can do by yourself, such as walking and swimming, has also been found to be effective in this regard.
- Occupational therapy. The purpose of occupational therapy is to help you discover alternative ways of performing your job or everyday tasks so that no additional stress will be put on your joints.
- Yoga and tai chi. Medical studies revealed that these movement therapies, which involve light exercise and deep breathing techniques, can also help reduce pain and improve flexibility in osteoarthritis patients.
Because people diagnosed with osteoarthritis often struggle with performing even the simplest daily tasks, the use of assistive devices might be necessary. They can ease their difficulties and enhance the quality of their life to a great extent. Some of the assistive devices available for osteoarthritis patients are:
- shoe orthotics
- knee braces
- steering wheel grips
- shoe wedges
Joint replacement surgery is usually recommended for severe osteoarthritis cases in which the cartilage has almost completely worn out. It is also known as arthroplasty and is most often performed on the hips and knees. The aim of this surgical procedure is to restore the function of the joint, either by resurfacing the bones or by replacing it with a prosthesis (artificial joint). Joint replacement surgery can be carried out by using both localized and general anesthesia. Nonetheless, over time, artificial joints may also deteriorate and therefore require replacement.
In the case of secondary osteoarthritis, losing the excess weight can improve your condition significantly, as it will relieve the stress on your joints. For osteoarthritis which occurs in the knee, osteotomy might prove to be a great way to alleviate pain. This is a surgical procedure during which a cut will be made across the bone – either above or below the knee – and a wedge of bone will subsequently be removed or added to shift your weight from the damaged portion of your knee.