Osteoarthritis, one of the most common forms of arthritis, affects millions of people in the United States. The loss of protective cartilage around joints can cause severe pain, stiffness, swelling, limited range of motion and other symptoms that affect one's mobility and quality of life.
Dr. Troy Thompson, a non-operative orthopedics and sports medicine doctor at Adena Bone and Joint Center, says the earliest symptom of osteoarthritis is pain in the joint with activity. When the pain is persistent or limiting your activity, it's advisable to get it checked out by a physician. With an early diagnosis, the doctor and patient can work together to possibly stave off further complications.
While arthritis is a multifaceted disease with different causes, Thompson explains that like many diseases, osteoarthritis is predominantly affected by lifestyle, occupation, physical activity and exercise, with nutrition being "a major underlying variable." The progression of osteoarthritis is dependent on all these variables, he notes.
When osteoarthritis is suspected or diagnosed, Thompson says there are multiple preventive therapies that can slow the onset of the disease. Nutrition, he stresses, might be the most important preventive therapy.
"We have to realize that what makes food good for us is that it provides us with the macro and micronutrients that we need," he explains. "Our body requires proper nutrition to repair itself from the daily stress of life to slow the wear and tear."
"We have gotten away from how important nutrition is for our body," he says. "We look at food more for stress relief and enjoyment versus really what food was designed for — to help our bodies with the repair processes, rebuild tissues, and lead to better wellness."
Proper sleep is also important. Much of the recovery and repair of muscles and joints aided by nutrition occurs when we sleep by the regeneration of repair hormones such as growth hormone, Thompson says.
Exercise and physical therapy are also key modalities in preventive treatment. The key there, he adds, is finding the right exercises that work the arthritic joint in a healthy manner without causing it further distress.
"Physical therapy and exercise for an arthritic joint is very important so the muscles around the joint function as a natural brace to support the joint," he says. "We refer to this as 'unloading of the joint,' so the muscle is doing more of the work than the joint."
Bracing is another treatment modality that can help to stabilize the joint to improve function, decrease pain, and increase activity.
Thompson incorporates supplements into his patients' treatment, but he cautions that how a supplement is consumed can have a significant impact on their effectiveness. He emphasizes three factors affect how supplements work: the time of day taken, the dosage, and what the supplement is taken with. Regarding dosage, the amounts that are beneficial are typically higher than the recommended dosage on the label, he adds. Also, the type of foods consumed with the supplement can affect their absorption.
"Supplements do work, they're just very complicated in how they work,'' he says. "I encourage patients to look into supplements, do their own research, and always look at the three factors when taking a new supplement."
Common treatments include modification of activities and work; although not always straightforward and commonly underestimated, can help tremendously with treatment and prevention. Prescription ointments and creams can help with flares for arthritic joints. Traditional arthritis medications, typically consisting of oral anti-inflammatory drugs, can be used to establish baseline relief, improve stiffness, and to serve for “breakthrough" pain.
More aggressive treatments may be necessary at times. Thompson explains there are four primary types of injections: Short acting steroid injections; time-release steroid injections; visco-supplementation, to replace the body's natural joint lubricant; and Ortho-biologic injections, including platelet rich plasma and stem cell injections. For last treatment options there are nerve pain block procedures and of course surgery when indicated.
"People do not fit in boxes,'' he says. "We have standards of care guidelines, research and medical literature to help guide us, but every person is an individual and, thus, their treatments need to be adjusted accordingly."
To schedule an appointment, call Adena Bone & Joint at 740-779-4570.