The real key to managing osteoarthritis is being proactive. I’m afraid taking some pills to mask the pain will not do you any good in the long term- in fact it may make your condition worse.
Osteoarthritis is a very common. All of us will know someone who suffers from it but family Doctors know there is no cure but are still remarkably bad at managing osteoarthritis. They usually give you a prescription for some painkillers and/or anti-inflammatory pills and tell you to come back for surgery when you are really bad!
When you have osteoarthritis your joint becomes mechanically dysfunctional. By masking the pain you will do more and as the joint is not working properly you will damage it more and so may speed up the degenerative process.
To try and slow the degenerative process you must improve function. As a side effect of this as function improves the pain reduces as well so this is a win-win situation!
Put VERY simply!
- A joint is two bones that meet.
- Between them they have cartilage which act as a cushion. (This is what wears in OA).
- A joint is held in position by ligaments so it doesn’t slop about when you move.
- Muscles move the joint.
- Tendons attach a muscle to the bone.
To improve joint function you need to work on the muscles, tendons and ligaments (the soft tissue) around the joint. It would be great if you could work on the cartilage as well but researchers are still working in that bit!
However there are lots of ways you can improve the condition of your soft tissue and so improve your joint function. You will not cure the wear and tear but in almost all cases the soft tissue gives a lot of the pain.
When your cartilage wears it means the joint doesn’t run smoothly. That makes the soft tissue irritated so it too becomes painful and it pulls awkwardly on the joint. This dysfunction wears the cartilage more which irritates the soft tissue more. I am sure you can see the downward spiral!
Managing Osteoarthritis by Managing Soft Tissue
1. Reduce any inflammation. Osteoarthritis is by definition a non inflammatory arthritis but inflammation is found in the surrounding soft tissue. By reducing inflammation you will reduce pain. If anti-inflammatory medication helps your pain then all that pain can be managed more effectively than taking pills which have dangerous side effects.
You can reduce inflammation by:
1. Cold packs. By putting cold on you will reduce the inflammation. A packet of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel works fine (I say peas as they are small and fit to the body contours better than something larger). How long you leave them on depends on where you put them but be careful not to put them on too long as freezing the soft tissue is not a good idea. If you are unsure then 15 minutes except on hands, feet, ankles or wrist where 10 is plenty. The cold also has the added benefit of giving immediate pain relief when you have overdone things as well!
2. Supplements and Natural Remedies. You don’t need to take chemical drug to reduce inflammation. There are very effective supplements for reducing inflammation. Personally I find Devil’s Claw the best and you can click on this link to read how I use Devil’s Claw as part of managing osteoarthritis.
3. Diet. Many foods have a both an inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effect on the body. This article is a quick overview of what to eat and what to avoid but for a really in depth read on this subject you can’t beat Eat to Beat Arthritis.
4. Improve Function. if you really want to break the cycle then you need to improve function. This can be done with massage and exercises.
Massage for Osteoarthritis
Massage helps in two ways.
- Firstly it improves healing by increasing blood flow. The more oxygen and nutrients you have the better and quicker you heal and increased blood flow also takes away the waste products like lactic acid that will irritate if left there.
- Secondly by doing a type of massage called cross friction you can help any injuries (new and old) to heal properly. Often OA is caused by an old poorly healed injuries (which is why we get the OA in say one knee and not both). By doing cross friction and making the old injury heal properly you may slow your degeneration.
You can either visit a physical therapist at least weekly for the rest of your life or learn to do this for yourself. It is actually really easy!
Exercises for Osteoarthritis
When managing osteoarthritis you need to reduce the pain and stiffness from the soft tissue. For this you need to do these three types of exercises:
1. Stretching– to increase the length of the muscles and tendons and help start to stretch tight ligaments. They improve flexibility and mobility.
2. Isometric Strengthening– these are exercises that strengthen the muscles and tendon but don’t move the joint and irritate your worn joint surface. They help mainly with with the scaffolding effect but also improve the muscle stamina so they do not get irritated as quickly allowing you to do more without pain.
3. Isotonic Strengthening– these are strengthening exercises that move the joint as you progress. They will continue the strengthening but as the joint is moved they will also help the cartilage inside the joint. Cartilage has no blood supply and so gets nutrients from the thick, viscous fluid inside the joints (synovial fluid) and moving the joint helps ‘feed’ the cartilage.
You will need to make sure the exercises are suitable for someone with osteoarthritis and also MOST IMPORTANTLY you need to have a program that is suitable for the amount of degeneration you have and how your OA affects you.
Learn to Effectively Manage Your Osteoarthritis
You need to make some changes but none of them are rocket science. In order to help people to effectively manage their osteoarthritis I wrote the How to Treat Osteoarthritis Naturally series of eBooks.
In them I cover all the lifestyle changes and treatment options. They include massage and exercise programs with a questionnaire so you can be sure you are doing the right amount of each exercise for the amount of degeneration you have.
With the lack of help from Doctors and the sky rocketing cost of hands on therapy it makes sense you start managing osteoarthritis for yourself. At US$19.99 it won’t break the bank either!
As your Doctor won’t do it start managing osteoarthritis yourself!