Living well with arthritis

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Roughly 54 million people have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Getting arthritis diagnosed and learning strategies to reduce its impact can make living with the condition more manageable.

Arthritis is a general term referring to many rheumatic diseases that cause pain, stiffness and swelling in joints and other connective tissues. More than 100 types of joint diseases can affect supporting structures such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and other parts of the body.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is a common condition of aging. Osteoarthritis results from the breakdown of cartilage in the joints and the subsequent growth of bone spurs that become inflamed.

Degeneration of cartilage may lead to a total loss of the cartilage cushion between the joints, often affecting the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees. People with osteoarthritis usually experience joint pain and limited movement.

Seek an accurate diagnosis

If you have pain, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek medical advice.

Describe your symptoms in detail, so your health care provider can provide an accurate diagnosis. Your health care provider may recommend getting an X-ray, which is typically helpful in evaluating joint pain.

Arthritis treatment options

There is no single treatment program that applies to all people with arthritis.

Treatment plans often include:

  • Various medications for pain relief, depending on the type and severity of symptoms.
  • A break from activities that cause pain.
  • Exercises that help improve joint function and reduce pain.
  • Instruction on the proper use of joints.

Depending on the patient’s specific condition, additional treatment recommendations may include using heat and cold; joint protection with position adjustment and bracing; assistive devices, such as a cane or brace; transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which is the use of low-voltage electrical currents to temporarily reduce pain; and hydrotherapy or massage therapy.

Get moving!

Exercise helps lessen pain, increase range of movement, reduce fatigue and feel better overall. Your health care provider, a physical therapist, or other trained health professional can teach range-of-motion and strengthening exercises that are good for arthritis.

Resolve to reduce

Every extra pound you carry around translates into added stress on your knees and hips. Excess weight can mean more pain, no matter which form of arthritis you have. It can also contribute to and aggravate osteoarthritis, while increasing your risk of gout.

Early treatment can often mean less joint damage and less pain. Your provider might recommend a combination of treatments, such as medication, weight management, exercise, use of heat or cold, and other methods to protect your joints from further damage.

Explore all options

In recent years the FDA has approved a number of new drugs for different types of arthritis. If your current arthritis medication isn’t working as well as you’d like, ask your provider if there are newer treatment options.

If other treatment options haven’t helped, an orthopedic surgeon may recommend surgery, especially if you’re having difficulty performing everyday tasks. Surgery can smooth out and reposition bones, replace arthritic joints and remove loose pieces of bone or cartilage from joints.

To reduce your chances of developing arthritis:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke.
  • Do regular, gentle exercise, including walking, stretching or yoga.
  • Avoid repetitive motions and risky physical activities that can contribute to joint injury, especially after age 40.

Dr. Willa Fornetti, DO, is a sports medicine specialist at the Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh, located at 855 N. Westhaven Dr. Her office can be reached at 920-303-8700.

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