Options for Treating Arthritis

For millions of Americans, one of the most common pain issues is arthritis. In 2018, the CDC reported that over 50 million people suffered some form of arthritis. It’s become the leading cause of disability in the United States. While it can’t be completely cured, there are steps that can be done to limit the impacts of the disease. By doing so, patients are able to control pain, minimize joint damage, and preserve the ability to physically function. Here is an overview of arthritis and how it can be treated.


What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is defined as when there is tenderness, inflammation, or swelling in one or more joints. The primary symptoms are joint pain and stiffness. These indicators typically tend to worsen as people get older. There are three traditional types of arthritis. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. It’s usually highest in older people and usually occurs as a result of overworked joints, primarily weight-bearing joints such as the knee, hip, and spine. Next is rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system attacks various parts of the body, especially the joints. While it’s unclear what exactly causes rheumatoid arthritis, it can arrive gradually or suddenly, causing pain and swelling. Finally, psoriatic arthritis primarily impacts the skin. It causes patchy, raised areas that can burn and itch. There can also be joint pain and swelling as well, mainly in fingers and toes.


How Medication Can Help

The right treatment plan for arthritis will depend primarily on which form of the disease a patient has. Lab work, x-rays, and doctor input will help with the determination. Many doctors will prescribe medications for patients that have joint pain. Most of these medicines will help reduce inflammation in addition to pain. Typically, a patient will be prescribed over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol or an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like aspirin or ibuprofen. Other options include topical creams or supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. Corticosteroid medications, which include cortisone shots and prednisone, may also be recommended.


The Role of Physical Therapy

Doctors will also suggest exercise and physical therapy to help alleviate arthritis symptoms. From an exercise standpoint, it can help improve overall joint function. Physical therapists will suggest exercises that can be done to improve strength to muscles around joints, helping to increase support. It can also help to improve the overall range of motion. When looking for a physical therapist, check with your doctor. Physical therapy can be beneficial for most arthritis patients, but it’s not effective for every person. The recommendation is that it is part of treatment it should be done for 3-6 months.


Other Treatment Options

If physical therapy is not effective, many other options are available. While it’s meant to only be temporary, heat or cold packs can be applied to the joint to reduce inflammation. Athletic braces are also used to support joints for extra strength, but they are a temporary solution as well. A beneficial option may be weight loss. Excess weight can add extra stress on joints, so losing that weight helps relieve that additional pressure. Patients will want to check with their doctors before starting an exercise program. In severe cases where joints don’t respond to other treatments, surgery may be recommended.

Arthritis is a common issue that affects millions, but there are ways to reduce its impacts. It’s important to know specific treatments and their impacts will vary between patients, making it key to consult with a medical professional. Knowing these treatments will help patients discover the ones that are best for them.