By Barbara Floria, Pure Matters
Arthritis is a general term for more than 100 rheumatic diseases. More than 46 million Americans reported having diagnosed arthritis or chronic joint symptoms in a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Arthritis can affect the joints, muscles, connective tissues, skin and organs. The most obvious warning signs are pain, swelling, stiffness or problems moving one or more joints.
Although there's no cure for arthritis, the symptoms can be treated effectively in many cases. Here are some proven treatments:
The right kind of exercise
Daily exercise is an important part of arthritis treatment. It helps build and preserve muscle strength, protects joints from further stress, and keeps them flexible. An effective exercise program consists of these three types of exercises:
- Range-of-motion exercises to keep muscles and joints flexible.
- Aerobic exercises to promote cardiovascular conditioning, overall fitness, and help manage weight. The exercises should be low impact, such as walking, swimming, bicycling, or cross-country skiing. Cross-training programs involving low-impact activities are recommended.
- Strengthening exercises to build supporting muscles so they can absorb stress on joints and keep them stable.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the activities within each category that are right for you.
Excess weight can put stress on weight-bearing joints and increase wear and tear on the cartilage that cushions joints. Research has found a connection between obesity and osteoarthritis of the knee and hips. And because overweight people often are less active, they're susceptible to joint stiffening.
If you're 10 pounds or more overweight, try to slim down by exercising, reducing your fat consumption, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
The goals of treatments are to control pain, improve function, and slow the progress of the disease. Many drugs are used to treat arthritis. These are the most common:
- Analgesics. These drugs reduce pain but not inflammation. Acetaminophen is an analgesic available without a prescription and is often combined with other analgesics. Prescription analgesics include opiates such as codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and propoxyphene hydrochloride. Tramadol is a drug that is similar to opiates but has less potential for abuse and addiction.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs relieve pain and inflammation by slowing down the body's production of prostaglandins. The most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs are aspirin and ibuprofen. Other NSAIDs are naproxen, naproxen sodium, and meloxicam. Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor based on your overall health and medical history. Other stronger NSAIDS may be available by prescription.
- Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. These drugs are used for rheumatoid arthritis and are given only under a health care provider's close supervision. Examples include leflunomide (Arava®), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®), methotrexate and chlorambucil (Leukeran®) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine®).
- Biologic response modifier drugs (BRMs). BRMs are made from living sources, such as cell cultures, and they block the reaction of tumor necrosis factor, an immune system protein. BRMs are monoclonal antibodies that specifically target tumor necrosis factor, which is associated with rheumatoid arthritis and some other autoimmune diseases. These drugs are injected or given intravenously. Examples of these drugs are etanercept (Enbrel®), infliximab (Remicade®), adalimumab (Humira®) and anakinra (Kineret®). These drugs have been associated with an increased risk of lymphoma. Because of this, the benefits must be carefully weighed against the risks.
- Two medications specifically for OA of the knee are sodium hyaluronate (Hyalgan® and Supartz®) and hylan G-F20 (Synvisc®). These drugs, which are injected into the joint, are fluids similar to a substance that normally lubricates and nourishes a joint. They relieve pain in the joint for six months to a year.
- Corticosteroids. These potent anti-inflammatory medications provide relief initially but may produce troublesome side effects such as calcium loss from bone, weight gain, cataracts and abnormalities in glucose regulation with long-term use. These are given only under a doctor's close supervision.
Research has shown that people with arthritis benefit from educational programs that teach them how to stay active and practice pain and stress management. They get up to 80 percent more relief from pain and joint tenderness than they can get from using medication alone.
Heat and cold
Applying heat or cold can temporarily reduce arthritis pain. This treatment is especially helpful before and after exercise. Most people with arthritis respond more positively to cold packs than to heat when active inflammation produces severe pain and joint swelling.
Physical and occupational therapy
Physical therapists teach prescribed muscle-strengthening and range-of-motion exercises. They also teach ways to control pain without medication. Occupational therapists teach how to use self-help devices and reduce strain on joints.
People with severe arthritis may need joint replacement or joint resurfacing procedures performed by an orthopedic surgeon.
Source: Pure Matters