Even though there is no cure for osteoarthritis (OA), there are several treatment options and lifestyle changes that can relieve your symptoms. For many, a combination of these treatments and lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, and slow progression of the disease.
Achieving a healthy weight is an important part of OA management. Excess weight causes unnecessary strain on your feet, knees, and hips. Losing weight can have a big impact on the damage being done to your joints: one less pound may take the pressure of 3 to 6 pounds off your knees.
Eating a healthier diet will not only help manage your weight, but eating certain foods can also improve the health of your joints and reduce inflammation. Studies published in Arthritis and Rheumatism show that vitamin D may prevent the breakdown of cartilage. Vitamin D is found in seafood like cod, sardines, and wild salmon. These fish also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease inflammation and stop breakdown cartilage. Vitamin C, beta carotene, and bioflavonoids have also been linked to better joint health.
Though exercising with OA may sound like a bad idea, the right type of exercise can help. Exercise may improve pain and stiffness and even prevent further damage to your joints. The stronger the muscles around your knee are, the better they can absorb the shock placed on the knee when you move. Exercise can also help you lose weight and put even less stress on the knees and ease pain. Your doctor or physical therapist may be able to recommend specific exercises based on your needs. These may include strengthening exercises for your muscles and stretching and range-of-motion exercises for stiffness. Aerobic activity is recommended for those who need to lose weight.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin) can help alleviate some of the pain and inflammation of OA and are available over-the-counter as well as in prescription doses from your doctor. Use caution, even when taking over-the-counter medications, as they can interact with other medications that you are taking. Always speak to your doctor before taking new medication.
Topical medications are also available. These creams and gels contain active ingredients such as salicylate, menthol, and capsaicin. Using these products may relieve the pain and inflammation associated with OA because of their heating/cooling effect on the skin.
Glucosamine sulfate (GS) and chondroitin sulfate (CS) are over-the-counter supplements known to help improve symptoms for those with OA. Studies have found that patients with mild to moderate OA of the knee experienced a 20 to 25 percent reduction in pain when taking GS and CS.
Heat and Cold
Using heat and cold for OA of the knee has been shown to offer relief from symptoms. Heat, whether from a warm pack or warm shower, can help relieve pain and stiffness, while applying a cold pack or ice can decrease swelling and pain.
An occupational therapist can work with you to minimize discomfort. They can teach you how to protect your joints when performing day-to-day activities at home and at work.
Cortisone injections and viscosupplementation can be good options for those who aren’t getting enough relief from other non-surgical treatments for OA of the knee. Cortisone injected into the knee joint has been found to offer fast relief from pain and inflammation. Relief can last anywhere from a few days to several months.
Viscosupplementation works differently in that hyaluronic acid (HA) is injected into the knee joint. HA is a naturally present part of joint fluid that lubricates the joints and helps them move freely. Most people with OA don’t have enough HA in their joint fluid. By injecting HA into the joint, the knee benefits from the extra lubrication because it decreases friction in the joint and improves the joint’s ability to absorb shock. This, in turn, means less pain when you move.
Results of both cortisone injections and viscosupplementation are known to vary from person to person. Viscosupplementation has been found to provide relief to approximately 50 percent of patients.