A Guide for Treating Arthritis

Living with arthritis is painful and uncomfortable, and it’s something that millions of people endure every day across the world. It’s estimated that over 54 million adults in the U.S. have doctor-diagnosed arthritis and that this number will keep climbing significantly as time goes on, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

There isn’t a cure for this condition, however, there are many good treatments that can help to reduce pain and discomfort. Sufferers often have huge improvements in their quality of life because of the treatments they receive. In this article, we’re going to talk about some different types of arthritis and what kind of treatments there are for each.

What Are the Different Types of Arthritis?

There are actually more than 100 types of arthritis, which is something that most people aren’t aware of. For our purposes, we’re only going to look at three of the them because they are the most common. Just be aware that there are many more than what we’re about to discuss.

Osteoarthritis

This is the one that affects the most people. It’s brought on by the wear and tear of aging or other things on the body. For instance, it could be caused by being overweight for a long time. It could also come from playing certain sports for a while where there is extra work put on the joints.

Most of the time, sufferers of this type of arthritis will feel it in weight-bearing joints more than anywhere else. That means it’s felt the most in the knees, back, feet, and hips.

All of these joints have cartilage in them between the bones that come together to form the joint. When there’s been a lot of work overtime or because of extra weight to carry or vigorous activities, that cartilage can get damaged. Then the joint loses it’s cushion because the damage leads to the wearing away of the cartilage. That means when the bones move, they can grind against each other causing pain to the person when they move that joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

 This arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Sometimes the immune system can be triggered to attack things within its own body. That’s what happens with RA. The system attacks various parts of the body, especially targeting the joints. It causes the joints to become very inflamed, which can lead to some pretty serious damage. This one is really important to treat because of that.

One symptom you’ll often see with RA are bumps on the joints that it targets. They’re called rheumatoid nodules and they cover the joint making any movement very uncomfortable for the person suffering with this condition.

The cause of RA is unknown at this point. There are some thoughts that it’s brought on after an infection has been in the body caused by a virus or some kind of bacteria, but that hasn’t been proven. There is still ongoing research to try and figure out more of what’s happening in the body when someone gets RA.

Psoriatic Arthritis

This is a condition where a person’s skin and joints get inflamed. It’s kind of a hybrid of two separate conditions—psoriasis and arthritis. It’s not very common relative to the other forms, but it does still affect quite a lot of people.

Sufferers usually present with psoriasis first. Then the joint inflammation comes on later. The symptoms include swollen toes and fingers and discolored fingernails. You can also get it in your knees and your back. It sometimes is seen in a joint on one side of the body but not the other. For instance, your left elbow could be swollen while your right one is perfectly normal.

Types of Treatments

As there is no cure, treatments have to be focused on decreasing or eliminating symptoms of those with arthritis. The goal is to make someone with this condition as comfortable as possible while giving them as much functionality back as well. Not all treatments will work the same for all sufferers. It’s important to remember that you should try other methods of care if one doesn’t work for you. You may even want to use more than one type of treatment at a time to get the best results.

Pain Medications 

If you’re living with arthritis, that means you’re living with pain sometimes. Pain medications are often used to ease the pain of anyone suffering from any type of arthritis. Doctors will suggest over-the-counter medicines for people with mild pain levels.

If you have pretty severe pain much of the time, your doctor may prescribe heavy painkillers like opioids. These will likely help a great deal with the joint pain, but they can be very dangerous. They’re known to be habit-forming for many people so this shouldn’t be a long-term treatment plan.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID)

These kinds of medications will help with the pain and the inflammation. For OTC options you’ll have ibuprofen and naproxen. There are some you can also get prescribed by your doctor. You can also get these kinds of medications in a cream form that can be put on the joints topically for relief.

Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARD)

This class of drugs works to stop your immune system or at least slow it down from making targeted attacks on your joints. That’s why they’re used mostly to fight against rheumatoid arthritis.

Biologic Response Modifiers

These are drugs engineered to alter the way the immune system behaves in the body. They’re used along with DMARDs many times to combat rheumatoid arthritis. Their job is to latch onto protein molecules that work within the immune system and get them to react differently, so they don’t target the joints.

Corticosteroids

These drugs are taken in pill form or given by injection to the affected joints. They reduce the activity of the immune system and decrease inflammation in joints that are swollen.

Counterirritants

These come in the form of topical medicines that can be rubbed on the affected areas. The signals of pain coming from the joint might be interrupted by the layer of cream or ointment applied.

Physical Therapy

Many people with arthritis undergo some form of physical therapy. There is a lot of stiffness and discomfort for people living with this condition. Certain exercises and movements can help to loosen up those areas, as well as build up the muscles around the joint. When you strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joint, you can take some of the stress off of it, which can lessen the pain you feel.

Surgery

Sometimes the symptoms of arthritis can just get too severe to handle any longer. If the less invasive methods of treatment don’t do anything to improve quality of life, then something more drastic needs to be tried and that is usually surgery.

There are differing levels of the surgery needed to help ease arthritis pain and suffering. What type is decided on will be determined by the level of discomfort you experience, the location of the joint, and your medical history.

  • Joint Repair – The least invasive type of surgery is the joint repair. Many times it can be done through very small incisions made at the joint site (arthroscopic surgery). The ends of the bones will be polished or aligned differently so that there is less pain or discomfort.
  • Joint Fusion – This will usually only be done when the joint is relatively small. Examples of these would be joints in the fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists. The procedure consists of the removal of the ends of bones which come together at the joint. Then the remaining portions of the bones are pulled together, linked by some form of hardware and left to heal and fuse into one piece. It will ultimately relieve the joint pain, but you’ll lose mobility because of the absence of a joint.
  • Joint Replacement – This is a very invasive procedure with a pretty intense recovery period. This requires that the entire joint be taken out and a new synthetic one put in. You’ll hear of this mostly being done with knees and hips.

Non-Medical Treatment for Arthritis

Plenty of people are looking for ways to treat their conditions with other more natural methods. One that is being used quite a lot in the treatment of arthritis is cognitive behavioral therapy. According to The National Institutes of Health, sufferers can learn to relax with various techniques and control responses in their bodies with modifications to their behavior. The idea is that those with arthritis need to be educated in ways of thinking to help them with managing what’s happening in their bodies, thus helping to manage their pain.

There have been studies that show patients who learn how to do this are living with much less discomfort than they were prior to the therapy. Some outcomes have even shown it to be more effective than traditional medical treatments.

Other treatments include supplements. There are some who are saying that chondroitin and glucosamine are both effective at decreasing pain levels, lessening stiffness, and reducing inflammation. However, this isn’t something that’s been proven. It’s important to note that anyone who is considering trying an alternative to medical-based treatment should still discuss it with their doctor.

Acupuncture has been tried for osteoarthritis. It’s shown positive results for many people. The results have been less pain, less swelling, and more mobility in the affected joint that is being treated. Acupuncture is often used for osteoarthritis in the knees.

Fish oil has shown to be quite effective for sufferers of arthritis also. It helps to lessen inflammation and increase range of motion in affected joints. People who have turned to fish oil to help manage their arthritis have found it decreases their need for painkillers. It can be taken in capsulated form or by eating diets high in oily fish, like salmon.

Treating Arthritis at Home

Staying as mobile as you can is a good idea for those with arthritis. Stiffness gets worse when you don’t move the joint around at all. Doing exercises that are recommended for loosening up the affected joints is crucial for improving functionality and keeping pain levels down.

You can also heat the affected joints with a heating pad. Wet heat from a hot pack or a hot bath can be really effective, too. If you’re having a more difficult day with pain or discomfort in your joints, heat is a good temporary fix.

There are items you can buy to use in your home that will make everyday tasks easier for you if you suffer with deformed fingers due to rheumatoid arthritis or bad joints in your knees or elbows. Everything from door handles to utensils in the kitchen, and specialty designed bathtubs in the bathroom can be used in your house.

Conclusion

No matter what type of arthritis you have, it’s not an easy condition to live with if you don’t get the help you need. The tricky part is that everyone’s body reacts and heals differently. What works wonders for one person might have adverse effects for another.

The only way to find out which treatment is best for you is to actually try it.

There are options for medications, therapies both physical and mental, surgeries, and even many things you can try in the comfort of your own home. You can even outfit your home with items that will help you live better and in less pain.

You will improve the quality of your life by seeking treatment and putting some effort into figuring out the right combination of methods that will allow you to manage your arthritis in an effective manner.

Resources:

https://www.webmd.com/arthritis/understanding-arthritis-treatment

https://webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/most-common-arthritis-types

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350777

https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-statistics

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