Painful joints, stiffness, swelling — arthritis pain can be serious and debilitating. If you are experiencing pain that is preventing you from living your life to the fullest, it helps to understand what arthritis pain looks like and determine what might be the cause of your condition.
Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in America, according to the Arthritis Foundation. More than 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from some form of arthritis, meaning one in every five people is affected by arthritis — and the pain it can cause.
Pain may seem like a natural part of aging, but pain that is caused by arthritis can be treated. Fortunately, there are ways to address this common condition.
Types of arthritis pain
Arthritis is an umbrella term that is used to describe 100 different diseases and conditions that affect the joints and the tissues surrounding them. Any joint in the body can be affected, including those in the fingers and hands, shoulders, wrists and elbows, hips and knees, and feet and ankles. Even your jaw can be affected by arthritis. Ouch!
Many times arthritis pain that begins to affect daily activities and quality of life is what causes people to seek the help of an orthopedic expert. You may experience the following symptoms:
- Joint pain
- Decreased range of motion
- Redness or tenderness
Pain may increase with activity or increase while you are sedentary, such as overnight in bed. You may notice symmetrical symptoms — or those that occur on the same joints on each side of the body.
Treating arthritis pain
The goal of arthritis treatment is to decrease pain and improve mobility, while restoring your quality of life. An orthopedic expert can assess your condition to determine what will give you the best outcome, be it non-invasive treatment, physical therapy or joint replacement surgery.
You may be wondering what is out there in terms of arthritis pain medication and what actually helps? There are some natural arthritis pain relief methods, the most important of which is a regimen of orthopedic physical therapy (PT).
Your orthopedic specialist will likely include PT in any treatment plan that includes joint injections, but it may be recommended even with over-the-counter treatments like analgesics — such as Tylenol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as Advil.
Joint injections may include corticosteriod shots — or cortisone shots — or gel injections. When injected properly into or near the inflamed joint, cortisone shots should offer pain relief that can last from a few days to several months. It should provide a window of opportunity for you to engage in PT that will help improve strength and mobility.
Gel injections are made of a synthetic substance that mimics that which actually occurs naturally in joints. The substance has anti-inflammatory properties and work like a shock absorber for the joint. They can last longer than cortisone shots and also provide a window for other treatment, like PT.
What options exist when medication fails?
If medication, PT and joint injections fail to improve quality of life, your doctor may recommend full or partial joint replacement surgery. Some common surgical procedures include: athroplasty, joint resurfacing, total joint replacement (TJR) or joint revision.
According to a 2013 study by the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, patients are more likely to benefit from joint replacement surgery if they are in general good health, have only one affected hip or knee, experience high levels of arthritis pain and suffer from a non-inflammatory type of arthritis (such as osteoarthritis).
Your age and other factors may contribute to the decision to go the surgical route. Take comfort in the fact that few arthritis sufferers end up needing surgery. And if you do, many surgeries are routine, outpatient procedures. Talk to a fellowship-trained orthopedic doctor about what treatment will get you back to your best quality of life in the least amount of time.