How Do You Know It’s OA?
In order to make a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms, then conduct a physical exam, paying special attention to your joints and how they move. Traditionally, an OA diagnosis is made only after joint pain and stiffness becomes persistent and an X-ray shows loss of cartilage and resulting damage to bones. However, research is pursuing ways to detect osteoarthritis sooner.
How is OA Treated?
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. Current disease management centers on controlling joint pain and stiffness while preserving your quality of life and your ability to go about everyday activities.
Medications and Surgery: OA treatment regimens center on pain relief. Analgesics and topical pain relievers combat discomfort, but don’t fight inflammation. Oral and injectible corticosteroids control inflammation, but aren’t recommended for frequent or long-term use.
At some point in their treatment, most people will try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which do a good job of reducing pain, swelling and inflammation. However, they can cause stomach distress and ulcers. They may increase the risk of heart attack in some people.
Surgery, including joint replacement, may be an option for extremely damaged joints. Your health care team can also provide or advise you about assistive devices, such as special shoe inserts, splints, braces, canes and walkers, should you need them.
Alternative therapies, which range from meditation to nutritional supplements, appeal to many people with osteoarthritis. Be sure to discuss them with your doctor before giving them a try.
Lifestyle Changes: Medication can be effective, but there’s much more you can do to live better with OA. Practice self management strategies – learning all you can about osteoarthritis so you know what to expect is a smart first step. Then discuss the disease and how it affects your life with your family and health care professionals.
Physical activity and weight loss are two effective non-drug treatments for osteoarthritis. Physical activity on a regular basis helps strengthen muscles and bones, increase flexibility and stamina, and improve your general sense of well-being. Shedding extra pounds can ease the strain on already burdened joints – every pound lost reduces the burden on your knees by 4 pounds. There are no special foods for people with OA, so eat a balanced, healthy diet.
Contact your local Arthritis Foundation office to find out about educational presentations and the Life Improvement Series programs, including land and aquatic exercise and tai chi. Our Walk With Ease program can help you get moving alone or with a group.