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Living with arthritis

Created date

January 24th, 2012

The word arthritis literally means joint inflammation. There are many diseases that fall into this category, including rheumatoid arthritis, in which your immune system attacks your tissues, and gout, in which uric acid builds up in your blood and affects your joints. But by far the most common form is osteoarthritis (OA). Almost 26 million people in the U.S. have doctor diagnosed OA, says Patience White, M.D., vice president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation. Millions more probably have the disease. OA causes pain, swelling, joint stiffness, and reduced flexibility because cartilage breaks down in your joints and your bones eventually rub together. Common sites of OA are the hands, knees, hips, and spine. People tend to have significant mobility problems when the knees and hips are affected, White says. Arthritis in particular is the most common cause of disability. Risk factors include family history, joint injury, being overweight, and age. The older you get, the more likely it is that you ll develop OA, but that doesn t necessarily mean you will have pain or be disabled by it, White explains. Being overweight and inactive can especially contribute to the development and progression of OA.

Living with OA

Therapies that manage OA pain and improve function include exercise, weight control, pain relief, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, and surgery. OA pain typically goes in cycles, but this kind of pain does not have to be part of growing older. Some people use ice, some use heat, such as a heating pad, soaking in a warm bath, or swimming in a heated pool, White says. Pain relievers are, of course, designed to help alleviate pain but once your pain is lessened you need to get moving, she adds. The pain reliever drugs themselves are not going to help the disease process, but exercise and weight loss can actually help you slow the progression of OA. As a last resort, joint replacements are good options for people with pain and functional problems that haven t responded to other treatments, White says.

Get moving!

The fact that exercise is crucial for managing arthritis may not make much sense to someone with joint pain, White explains. But inactivity can lead to a worsening of your symptoms. Exercise helps to strengthen the muscles that support the joint. With that extra joint support, you re likely to move better and have less pain, says Mark Samuelson, M.D., medical director at Linden Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Hingham, Mass. And as we all know, exercise is essential for many other areas of your health. Daily activity may also help you lose weight, which can especially benefit your knees. With every pound you lose, you take four pounds of pressure off each knee, White explains. Talk to your doctor to establish a safe exercise regimen. Working with a physical therapist may also help you develop particular exercises that work best.

Do supplements really work?

With regard to knee pain from OA, preliminary research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows that two dietary supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin, may help lessen moderate to severe pain, but there s no evidence that they help the disease process in any way. A review of scientific evidence by NIH also showed that SAM-e (s-adenosylmethionine) is likely effective for pain relief in OA. It seems to work about as well as aspirin and similar medications, but not as quickly. Most people have to take it for about a month to get relief. Most supplements are fairly safe, and if someone tells me something s working, I m not likely to tell them to stop taking it. Regardless, always check with your doctor before starting any over-the-counter arthritis supplement, Samuelson advises.