By Michael Holte, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon
No matter a person’s actual age, everyone ages at a different rate. This is chronological age vs. biological age. We all know of someone who appears to be younger, or older, than they really are. Haven’t you heard someone say “I feel so old!” as their joints snap, crackle, and pop?
Arthritis is inflammation of joints causing pain and stiffness, and it can cause muscle weakness. Arthritis is often tender to the touch as well as painful when pressure is placed on the joint or the joint is moved. Whether it is rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, it typically worsens with age. A physical exam, imaging such as x-rays and MRI scans, and occasionally blood tests are done to determine the condition of the bone and soft tissue. While there is nothing you can do to control your actual age, there are a few things you can do to help feel in control of your biological age, and lessen the arthritis pain you may be experiencing.
People who live with joint pain caused by arthritis notice physical limitations and it can be difficult to enjoy the most basic of life’s activities. This is especially true when it affects weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Walking, taking the stairs, kneeling, personal hygiene and grooming, ability to reach and do housework, and social activities are affected. Some of these things are taken for granted by non-arthritis sufferers.
Painful joints are often managed with medication, physical therapy, or alternative treatments. Making healthy lifestyle choices such as exercising and losing weight can reduce pain, stiffness, and improve function. Your doctor may prescribe acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as Aleve to help reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy can help by strengthening the muscles around the joint, stabilizing it and improving your range of motion. Stretching and low impact exercise such as bicycling or swimming helps prevent joint stiffness and maintains both flexibility and muscle strength. Corticosteroid joint injections are another option to ease the pain and stiffness of affected joints.
Sometimes it takes surgery to finally say good-bye to arthritis pain. Imagine being able to kneel again or bend over to pick up clothing on the floor. Orthopedic surgeons are specially trained in the surgical treatment of bone and joint problems. There are many effective treatments for arthritis from arthroscopy to complete joint replacements. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), joint replacement surgery is successful in more than nine out of ten people, resulting in a significant improvement in their ability to perform common activities of daily living. Before determining a treatment option, it is important to have realistic expectations and understand what each procedure can and cannot do. Discuss the benefits and risks with your physician and orthopedic surgeon to determine the best treatment option for you.