Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic cause of painful joints. It affects about 27 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Sometimes called degenerative joint disease or wear-and-tear arthritis, it is associated most often with the elderly, but it can strike patients of any age.
While osteoarthritis can affect any joint, it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers and the bases of the thumb and big toe, the foundation reports.
In addition to arthritis, other maladies can cause joint pain. Whatever the cause, there are often things patients can take to alleviate the discomfort. The first step is to consult with an experienced physician that specializes in pain management to help determine the cause of the pain and to develop a plan for treatment.
Here are some factors to consider if you are experiencing joint pain.
Exercise — too little or too much
Because osteoarthritis can result from overuse of a joint, some people experience pain after activity. As a result, the natural inclination is to avoid activity that provokes pain. But exercise and physical activity can also help with joint pain and stiffness.
Exercise should be balanced with rest and joint care. If your joints hurt or you have redness or swelling, give your joints a rest, then try a little exercise. Exercise such as yoga, pilates and Tai Chi are all good exercise choices for those with joint pain.
What you eat can play a significant role in joint pain. Recent studies have linked sugar to inflammation, which is a major component of joint pain. Read here to learn about the connection between sugar and chronic pain and how certain foods can combat inflammation. Many of those foods are found in the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, colorful vegetables, and fruits, olive oil, beans and fiber. Other anti-inflammatory foods include:
Omega-3 fatty acids – Mostly found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel. Also can be found in chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseed oil.
Green leafy vegetables – Kale, bok choy and spinach.
Turmeric – This is what gives curry it’s yellow color. Curcumin is the active ingredient that is a powerful antioxidant that has been actually shown to preserve to cell membranes from damage.
Ginger – Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols which are known to suppress cytokines and chemokines produced by synovial fluid and immune cells in the joints.
Pomegranate – Punicalagins found in the juice and peel of the pomegranate are extremely powerful antioxidants and are known to reduce inflammatory markers CRP and interleukin-6 in the blood.
Losing weight can also help reduce joint pain. Obesity is also known to contribute to joint pain, so a healthy diet combined with exercise and losing weight can often provide significant relief.
Besides arthritis, illnesses like gout, fibromyalgia and Lyme disease can also cause painful joints. Even reactions to some types of medication can be the culprit. In many cases, the treatments for joint pain caused by these conditions is similar to the treatment for osteoarthritis. But it is important to consult with a doctor so he or she can correctly diagnosis what is causing the problem.
NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce inflammation and pain for a limited time. If pain is severe, prescription medications may offer more relief.
Some other options include:
Physical therapy/chiropractic care. Stabilizing joints through aligning, strengthening and increasing flexibility can slow the progress of arthritis and help reduce pain. Often, occupational therapy is needed to show how to accomplish everyday activities in a less painful manner, such as brushing teeth or hair, rising from a chair or twisting a top. Bracing, orthotics and other aids can help reduce pain, increase balance and take pressure off painful joints when necessary.
Intra-articular or peri-articular cortisone injections
An injection of a corticosteroid either inside the joint space or into the surrounding joint tissue can rapidly reduce inflammation and pain. Sometimes an injection into the nerve of the joint can also help. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the number of these injections you can receive within a year.
Injecting a corticosteroid into the epidural space overlying the spine can rapidly reduce inflammation and back or neck pain.
An injection of a corticosteroid medication around the nerves that supply pain signals from the facet joints can rapidly reduce inflammation and pain in the back or neck area.
Trigger point injection
Injections of an anesthetic mixed with a corticosteroid into the soft tissue surrounding a painful and swollen arthritic joint can reduce pain. Often, the pain associated with a degenerated joint comes from the irritation of surrounding soft tissue. This occurs because of altered joint movement, compensation movement, altered gait, weakness or instability resulting from osteoarthritis.
BMAC stem cell injection therapy
Bone marrow blood is extracted from the patient in a painless procedure. The stem cell rich blood is then reinjected into the painful joint. Bone marrow aspirate concentrate, which supplies the important stem cell building blocks, can be combined with growth factors from amniotic allograft tissue for 1-2 punch to knock out arthritis pain naturally.
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, that does not mean there is no way to treat the accompanying pain. A wide range of options are available to provide relief so you can continue to enjoy the things you love.
Dr. Alex Bigham is the owner and CEO of Novocur Pain Management Clinics and has over 18 years of healthcare experience in private practice and Ambulatory Surgical Center settings. Novocur offers advanced treatment options in a concierge type practice without the concierge price tag. Dr. Bigham appears frequently on local TV and radio programs to discuss the latest in Pain Management or related health topics.