Edward Prince, MD, is a visiting orthopedic specialist at Page Hospital.
Question: What can I do help myself out as my joints start to wear out? Is this osteoarthritis and do I need surgery?
Answer: Life is a long and bumpy road, and your knees and hips are the primary shock absorbers. From tot to senior, every time you walk, run, jump, or boogie down, those joints absorb the jolts.
As time passes, the cartilage in the joints begins to wear out which causes the joint to become inflamed and painful. That pain is the calling card of arthritis, or osteoarthritis.
Cartilage deterioration is not just a matter of time, as was once thought. Where and when arthritis occurs varies from person to person. People who participate in sports activities in their younger years may never have serious problems with arthritis. Others who put little or no strain on their joints may experience the onset of arthritis in their 40s or 50s.
Orthopedic surgeons and others in the field are now looking beyond just the wear-and-tear phenomenon to explain osteoarthritis. Most believe that genetic or biological factors also play a role in who might suffer from arthritis and when. Other obvious contributing factors are injuries to joints and the effects of obesity on their weight-bearing capacity.
There are treatment options available before you must consider surgery for joint pain. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs. Cortisone injections, another form of treatment, place a concentrated dose of
anti-inflammatory medication directly into the joint. Taking an NSAID for extended periods, however, comes with its own set of issues. And cortisone is a steroid, which limits how regularly and how often it can be used.
Other treatment choices are physical therapy, exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint, and weight loss to ease the strain added pounds place on joints.
These treatment options have varying levels of effectiveness, however. In some cases, the pain inevitably warrants surgery. Knee, hip, and more recently, shoulder replacement procedures can give arthritis sufferers a new lease on life.
The synthetic materials used to replace joints have evolved over the years, as have the surgical procedures. Today, a replaced knee or hip will last far longer and function better than earlier designs. And technology combined with good-old-fashioned physical rehabilitation means shorter recovery.
Don’t live with pain. Know your options and make a step toward the solution that works best for you.