Learn How To Treat & Manage Arthritis
Some of you might be surprised to learn that arthritis is an umbrella term that can be used to describe more than 100 different conditions and disorders. Thus there is no really simple answer as to how best to treat someone living with arthritis. Instead, experts have developed a range of therapies and management strategies that can be used to combat diseases which affect nearly one half of the adult population.
If you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or you’ve developed some osteoarthritis (OA) in your knee as you’ve grown older, there is no reason that you can’t still enjoy a life full of activity. On this page, we’d like to briefly cover a number of treatments and therapies that could help relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis and protect the joints from more permanent dysfunction.
(Please note that this page is meant to be an educational resource only, people who’ve been diagnosed with arthritis should discuss their treatment options with their primary doctor and rheumatologist.)
There are a wide range of medications that have been prescribed to arthritic adults depending on their specific condition. Here’s a contemporary list of applicable medications, but this list will change as arthritis clinical trials continue to test new possibilities.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – These drugs provide pain relief and reduce inflammation. You’re likely quite familiar with most over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin IB) and naproxen (Aleve). Stronger versions are available in prescription form, and some are available gel or cream form that can be applied topically to the joints. (NSAIDs can cause various adverse side effects)
- Analgesics – These drugs are used to reduce arthritis pain, but they don’t help with inflammation. Prime examples include tramadol (Ultram and Ryzolt), acetaminophen (Tylenol), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Lortab), and narcotics containing oxycodone (Percocet and Oxycontin). Some analgesics can be addictive and should only be used sparingly.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – This form of medication is often prescribed for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). DMARDs work to inhibit the immune system response that is attacking healthy tissues surrounding the joints. Common versions include hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and methotrexate (Trexall).
- Counterirritants – These medicated ointments and creams are applied topically to the affected joints and can reduce painful symptoms. Various forms of counterirritants may contain menthol or capsaicin (the substance in peppers that make them so spicy).
- Corticosteroids – These drugs are used to suppress the patient’s immune system and reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids such as cortisone and prednisone can be applied either in tablet form or intravenously directly into the affected joint.
- Biologics – Biologic response modifiers are often used in combination with DMARDs. Their primary purpose is to target the specific protein molecules involved in the immune system response. Common versions of biologics include infliximab (Remicade) and etanercept (Enbrel).
Stay Physically Active
Effective weight management and regular exercise are key aspects of long-term arthritis management strategies. Patients who manage to integrate an effective routine into their schedule will find that they have less pain and stiffness than the average adult with arthritis. There are also a wide variety of programs available to help you get started.
In addition to getting regular exercise, you should also consider physical therapy as another avenue for managing your worst arthritis symptoms. Studies have shown how physical therapy has helped patients with crippling forms of arthritis gain back a significant level of range and motion in their affected joints.
In some rare instances, patients may need to undergo a surgical procedure in order to relieve pain or gain mobility. The following procedures have been used to treat arthritic patients:
- Joint Fusion – This form of surgery is mostly reserved for smaller joints (ankles, wrists, and fingers). Surgeons will carefully remove the ends of the two joint bones and then fuses these new ends together. Over time, these heal and become a single rigid unit.
- Joint Replacement – Some joints have undergone such permanent damage that more conservative treatments will no longer provide any relief. Surgeons can remove these damaged joints and replace them with artificial ones. Most of these procedures involve knees and hip replacements.
In the end, we must all remember to take care of our joints, because they all are put under some serious stress over the course of our lifetimes. If you’d like to learn more about your form of arthritis (or any other for that matter), we recommend checking out the Arthritis Foundation’s website.