The Different Treatments For Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is estimated that 8.5 million people in the UK live with painful joints associated with this condition. Osteoarthritis is more likely to occur in older people, in fact over 50% of people older than 65 have some evidence of osteoarthritis, but it can occur in younger adults and even (although uncommonly) in children.
Cartilage is the firm, rubbery tissue located between joints. It serves to reduce friction between the joints and acts as a shock absorber. Osteoarthritis occurs when this cartilage gets worn down, so the bones in the joints start rubbing together. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include aches and pains around joint areas, stiffness, decreased mobility and swelling.
Older people are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, although not all will. Other risk factors include obesity (this creates more weight pressure on the joints and may also contribute to inflammation which can make arthritis pain worse), diabetes, hereditary factors, joint injury and gender (women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men).
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are various treatment options which can manage mild and moderate symptoms. We spoke to experts from Arthritis Action, a UK charity which offers practical help and advice to help people living with arthritis improve their quality of life, to find out more.
“Arthritis causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints and so the first things that many people try are medicines including simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen tablets or rub on creams or gels,” says Dr Wendy Holden, Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist and Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor. “For inflammatory arthritis there are a wide variety of medicines designed to prevent joint damage and disability including methotrexate and other so-called disease modifying drugs (DMARDs).”
It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor to find out which types of medication may best suit your needs.
“Staying active is essential for people living with arthritis,” says David Vaux, Arthritis Action’s Therapies Manager & Exercise Lead. “A lack of exercise leads to weaker muscles that are less able to support the joints, resulting in pain and instability. Simple exercises to improve muscle strength can be just as effective for pain as prescription painkillers. These can also help improve balance and function, keeping people independent and sometimes delaying the need for surgery for much longer. It is normal to sometimes feel a little sore or uncomfortable after exercise, especially if it is something you haven’t done for a while, but it is important to remember that this does not mean that you are harming your joints.”
There are lots of exercise options available, and it’s important you choose something that you enjoy. Remember that exercise doesn’t have to involve running or weight lifting - anything from gardening, dancing, swimming,water aerobics, exercises done sitting down, going for a walk or even cleaning your house can count.
“Body weight plays a key part in arthritis, especially the three most common types of arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout),” says Martin Lau, Arthritis Action’s Services Development Manager & Dietitian. “Excess weight places additional pressure on weight-bearing joints. A landmark study found one lb of weight-loss lessens four lbs of pressure on the knees per step. For those with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, carrying more body weight could reduce the chance of achieving remission.”
Many people find a mixture of exercise and healthy eating beneficial for weight loss. Remember that you don’t need to ban your favourite foods - just try, on balance, to eat a healthy diet full of fruit, vegetables, healthy proteins, wholegrains, vitamins and minerals.
Supplements & Drug-free Alternatives
“There is no evidence that any dietary supplement such as turmeric or herbal remedies can help joint pains, but they may have a useful placebo effect. Omega-3 fish oils may help some people with inflammatory arthritis,” says Martin Lau.
If you are not getting your recommended daily vitamins through foods alone - for example, if you’re vegan and lacking b12 - then you may choose a vitamin supplement to help make sure you’re getting your quota. Vitamin D supplements may also be helpful for bone health, especially in the darker, colder months.
FlexiSEQ is a drug-free topically applied gel that many people have tried, experiencing benefits such as being able to come off the other drug-based treatments they were using. But don’t just take our word for it, in 2019 FlexiSEQ ran an Experience Study and we love to hear from our users who tell us their Stories, not to mention those who leave reviews on Trustpilot. It’s worth seeing what they all have to say to see if drug-free FlexiSEQ could help your joint pain.
“Stiffness and joint pain is often due to shortening of the muscles around that joint,” says David Vaux. “Anything you can do to keep the muscle around the joints in good condition such as massage, stretching and strengthening can help. As a consequence a healthier, more relaxed muscle can assist you in managing the pain and excess inflammation commonly experienced in arthritis.
“Physiotherapy can help strengthen joints and relax the tight muscles that can contribute to joint pains. There is some good scientific evidence that acupuncture can help with things like lower back pain, which is why it is sometimes possible to get it on the NHS through your GP. However, currently more research is being done to confirm its direct effectiveness for osteoarthritis. Currently, NICE guidelines do not recommend it for the management of osteoarthritis. Having said that, I have heard anecdotal evidence to suggest that many of my patients feel the benefits of acupuncture in helping them manage pain from arthritis. With this in mind, I would say that anything that can potentially help with pain is worth exploring.”
“Even though using the joints cannot cause further damage, arthritis can cause pain and muscle weakness, which can in turn make gripping and daily tasks - such as self-care and housework - more difficult,” says Dr Wendy Holden. “Luckily there are many aids or gadgets that can help you manage your everyday tasks, avoid more pain and help you stay independent. The Arthritis Action website features a helpful factsheet on some of the aids that can prove useful for living with arthritis. For more advice on useful aids or adaptations to your home, ask your GP to refer you to an occupational therapist who will be able to help.”
Surgery is usually only offered if other treatments have been ineffective, and if your arthritis symptoms are severe and regularly debilitating. Joint surgery can be effective at reducing pain and increasing mobility in the affected area, although it does not come without risks. Speak to your doctor if you’re curious about whether surgery is right for you.
Have you tried any of these treatments for arthritis? Do you have anything to add to the list? Let us know on Facebook.