Understanding and treating arthritis

  • Thursday, May 19, 2022 12:09pm
  • Opinion
Avi Goodman. Courtesy of EvergreenHealth.

Avi Goodman. Courtesy of EvergreenHealth.

By Avi Goodman, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon at EvergreenHealth Orthopedic & Sports Care

Many of us know a friend or loved one who suffers from joint inflammation and swelling. Maybe it even affects you directly. That’s because joint pain caused by arthritis is incredibly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 58.5 million Americans suffer from arthritis.

While living with joint pain isn’t inevitable for all of us, some are more prone to experiencing arthritis. If you have a family history of arthritis or a career where your joints receive consistent wear and tear, you may be more susceptible to arthritis. While there’s no proven ways to prevent arthritis, by monitoring for warning signs and practicing early intervention, you can help prevent joint pain down the road.

There are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an autoimmune condition that affects about 3 million Americans each year. Osteoarthritis is even more common with about 1 in 10 Americans experiencing osteoarthritis in their lifetime.

Osteoarthritis typically shows up as we age – it’s likely the arthritis you’ve seen your parents or grandparents experience. This type of arthritis can be genetic, but it’s also often caused by overusing or injuring your joints. Most commonly, osteoarthritis presents itself by causing joint pain, stiffness, swelling and even joint shifting in the hands, lower back, neck and weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips and feet.

Given the prevalence of osteoarthritis, patients tend to self-diagnose themselves with arthritis when they start to feel consistent joint pain and swelling. However, it’s important to see your primary care provider early on to ensure your symptoms truly point to arthritis, and to start a treatment plan that’s best for you and your care needs.

During your appointment, your doctor will perform a physical examination, revisit or learn more about your family’s health history and likely do an X-ray of the areas where you’re experiencing joint discomfort and swelling. Then together, you’ll partner with your provider on a treatment plan that’s appropriate for your individualized needs.

Even though osteoarthritis is common, especially as we near our 50s, 60s and 70s, it’s important to note that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. In fact, there are several different ways to treat osteoarthritis. To immediately address your discomfort, your provider may recommend that you start with home remedies to curb the symptoms you’re experiencing. Usually, this type of treatment plan will include elevating your joints, icing areas of discomfort and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen.

Even though you cannot prevent osteoarthritis, there are a few lifestyle modifications that can improve osteoarthritis. One of the easiest ways is to add an Omega-3 fish pill to your daily supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and can help lower inflammation in the body that may contribute to arthritis. It’s also important to ensure you’re at a healthy weight and exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints. Finally, stretching consistently can keep your joints and muscles from becoming too stiff and improve your range of motion.

If you’re still experiencing pain that affects your daily life, your provider may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon, like myself, who can help you explore other treatment options.

With my patients, I always exhaust all non-surgical options first. For some patients, for example, wearing a split or a brace can alleviate pain. While these splints aren’t usually worn 24/7, even reducing the pressure on your joints for a short period of the day can help reduce overall pain.

If using a brace or splint isn’t getting us the results we’d like, we’ll explore more advanced options, such as steroid injections, which often offer patients lasting positive results. While these injections aren’t very comfortable for patients in the short-term, they can provide immense improvement in joint pain and swelling.

Finally, we’ll assess surgical options, such as joint replacement, joint fusion or removing part of the bone that’s exacerbating your arthritis. The goal of surgery is to remove the root cause of the arthritis so you can live pain-free. While surgery usually requires a few months of healing time, the long-term benefits can be astounding.

Don’t let pain from arthritis slow you down. To learn more about the symptoms of arthritis, when it’s time to seek care and the different treatment options available at EvergreenHealth, visit www.evergreenhealth.com/ortho-sports-medicine.

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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
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