Chronic joint pain can be caused by many factors, but the most common is osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, is a gradual breakdown of cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is a tough, flexible connective tissue that protects the ends of bones in the joints. Osteoarthritis is common in the lower extremities because the hips and knees bear the weight of the body. 

Facts about arthritis

Arthritis may be caused by inflammation of the tissue lining the joints. Some signs of inflammation include redness, heat, pain, and swelling. Joints are places where two bones meet, such as your hip or knee. Over time, in some types of arthritis but not in all, the joints involved can become severely damaged.

Osteoarthritis can be painful and debilitating. As it becomes more advanced in the hip or the knee, walking, driving, standing and other daily activities can become difficult. If the condition begins to affect your daily lifestyle, your orthopedic surgeon may recommend joint replacement surgery so you can get back to doing many of the things that you enjoy.

Living with arthritis: What can I do to feel better?

Arthritis can affect every aspect of your life. In its early stages, many ignore their joint discomfort. But as arthritis becomes more advanced, even daily activities like walking, driving or standing can become difficult and painful. It is important to be proactive by taking steps to manage your condition.

See your doctor

Talk to your primary care physician who can refer you to a doctor who specializes in treating disorders of the bones and joints, usually an orthopedic specialist, who will determine whether it is arthritis or another condition. The doctor will examine you and will order X-rays of your bones and joints to determine if you have arthritis, what type is affecting you and the severity of your condition. Your physician will then guide you through the best available treatment options for your specific condition. There are a variety of surgical and non-surgical options that your physician may review with you.

Doctor examining knee

icon 1Strengthening

Moderate activities such as walking and swimming are great ways to keep your bones strong and your joints flexible. Exercise is an important part of arthritis treatment. Moderate exercise will not wear out your joints, but always consult your physician before starting any exercise program.

icon 4Stretching

Flexibility of joints can be improved by a regular stretching program. Flexibility allows for comfortable movement during exercise and other daily activities. Proper motion of your joints helps your cartilage stay healthy. If appropriate, your physician or physical therapist can develop a stretching program that can be done on a daily basis.

icon 2Aquatic therapy

Many people find that aquatic therapy is an excellent form of exercise for managing arthritis and pain. Water resists movement which allows for strengthening of your muscles. Aquatic therapy is also a great option because the water’s buoyancy allows you to move with minimal impact to your joints. Consult your physician about starting aquatic therapy classes.

icon 3Walking

Endurance is also an important aspect of exercise for people with arthritis. Walking is an excellent way to get this form of workout. Make sure to ask your physician for any recommendations or guidelines before beginning any walking routine.

Should I have joint replacement surgery?

Your doctor will help guide you through the process, but it is helpful to consider your answers to the following questions as your make your decisions:

1 Can you live with your current level of pain?

2 Are you having more bad day than good days

3 Does pain interrupt your sleep?

4 Do you have side effects from pain medications that you’d like to avoid?

5 Is your pain and stiffness getting worse?

6 Do you feel pain even at rest?

7 Have you given up activities that you previously enjoyed?

8 Have you explored non-surgical treatments?

9 Has your doctor suggested that a joint replacement will improve your symptoms?

10 Are you healthy enough for surgery?

11 Can you commit to weeks of post-surgery rehabilitation?

12 Can you take the time off for surgery?

Recovery can take up to six weeks or longer. You will likely be home-bound for the first phase of recovery.

Non-surgical treatment options

Hot and cold treatments

Both hot and cold treatments can help reduce pain from arthritis and help to increase flexibility. To reduce joint pain and swelling, use a cold compress to decrease blood flow. Heat will increase blood flow and help muscles to relax.

Pain control

There are several over-the-counter medications that can help relieve joint swelling and pain. These include acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and topical creams with capsaicin (an ingredient from the red pepper).

Injections

Injections of cortisone or hyaluronate can be prescribed to reduce swelling and pain in joints.

Self-help tools and devices

Joint pain can restrict your ability to accomplish everyday tasks. The following is a list of tools and devices that can help:

  • Orthotics to improve foot alignment
  • Braces for knee support
  • Jar openers
  • Button threaders
  • Large grips for pencils, garden tools or other
    hand-held objects
  • Abdominal supports to reduce stress on the back
  • Long-handled reachers or grabbers to help you
    pick things up without bending
  • Sock sliders to help you put on socks/shoe horns
    to help you put on shoes
  • Canes, walkers or crutches limit stress on joints

Nutrition

Is there such a thing as an “arthritis diet?”  Can eating well alleviate joint inflammation and pain?

Yes, scientific research has shown that following a diet low in processed foods and saturated fats and high in vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans is great for your body – and can curb joint inflammation and pain. Another bonus: Eating healthy, whole foods commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine – and fewer packaged foods – can also lead to weight loss, which makes a huge difference in managing joint pain.

Many reliable Internet sources provide extensive information about nutrition and arthritis.  One excellent resource is the Arthritis Foundation’s website under the heading:  Eating Well

Vitamins and supplements

There are a variety of supplements that are sometimes recommended for arthritis, including vitamin C, vitamin D, glucosamine and chondrotin sulfate. These supplements might or might not help relieve arthritis symptoms. As always, consult your physician to determine if these should be taken.

Surgical treatment options

Common surgical options

Talk to your doctor about the various options that are available. Below is a simple description of some of these options to help familiarize yourself with the terminology.

Rebuilding cartilage

In some cases, a hole may develop in the joint cartilage on the end of your bone. There are various methods available for correcting this problem, used mostly on younger patients with moderate or isolated injury to the cartilage.

Arthroscopy

By inserting instruments into the joint through small punctures, arthroscopy can remove or repair damaged tissue. This can reduce or even eliminate pain and swelling from the joint and can even prevent future damage to the knee.

Microfracture arthroplasty

In order to promote cartilage growth, microfracture arthroplasty uses an arthroscope, a thin viewing instrument, to drill small holes into your exposed bone. This procedure is used only on small areas of damage.

Growing cartilage

Cartilage cells can be harvested during an arthroscopic procedure, grown in a laboratory for future transplantation and implanted into a damaged area.

Partial joint replacements

If osteoarthritis develops in only one compartment of your knee and the others are left in relatively good condition, you may be a candidate for a partial replacement. This procedure resurfaces only the damaged cartilage, while preserving the remaining bone. To determine if this is the appropriate option for you, consult your surgeon.

Total joint replacement

Total joint replacement is the replacement of damaged bone and articulating cartilage found at the ends of the bones in your joint, and not in the entire joint as commonly thought. If you have significant degeneration of your joint’s articulating surface due to arthritis or other condition, your surgeon might recommend a total hip or knee replacement.

Replacement implants are made from metal alloy and advanced polyethylene (plastic). A typical hospital stay is normally three to four days, with rehabilitation and walking starting the day after surgery, and then physical therapy, which will continue for approximately six to 12 weeks after you leave the hospital.

Total joint replacement surgery has been proven successful at relieving discomfort so you can resume your normal activities.

Direct cartilage transplantation

If osteoarthritis develops in only one compartment of your knee and the others are left in relatively good condition, you may be a candidate for a partial replacement. This procedure resurfaces only the damaged cartilage, while preserving the remaining bone. To determine if this is the appropriate option for you, consult your surgeon.