What to Expect After an Osteoarthritis Diagnosis
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of joint pain and stiffness. Although no one wants to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a diagnosis means you are one step closer to finding the relief you crave. There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but much can be done to decrease pain and improve function. After an osteoarthritis diagnosis, you’ll work with your healthcare provider on exploring treatment options, including lifestyle changes and natural treatments that can improve your quality of life.
Osteoarthritis Treatment Options
Your treatment plan will depend on the severity and location of your osteoarthritis, your overall health, and your personal goals. The aim of treatment is to help you do the things you want (and need) to do without too much pain or discomfort.
Because everyone is different, you’ll have to work closely with your healthcare providers to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs. You’ll get the best results if you describe your symptoms and experience clearly and descriptively, take medications as prescribed, follow through on recommended lifestyle changes, and report back honestly on what works and doesn’t work.
Common osteoarthritis treatments to discuss with your healthcare provider include:
Physical and occupational therapy. Physical therapists (PTs) evaluate patients’ function and recommend specific exercises to increase range-of-motion and muscle strength. When appropriate, PTs also recommend braces to help support sore joints and show patients how to safely use assistive devices, such as canes. Occupational therapists (OTs) focus on helping patients independently perform activities of daily living. If you have arthritis in your hands, for instance, an OT can introduce you to devices that make it easier to brush and dry your hair and get dressed, for example.
Medication. Doctors use both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicine to treat osteoarthritis. If your arthritis is not severe, you may start with OTC medicine; prescription medicine is usually used if other treatments have not adequately relieved symptoms. It takes time and trial and error to discover the best medication (or combination of medications) to control your symptoms.
Injections. If medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes do not provide sufficient relief, your healthcare provider may recommend corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections (viscosupplementation) to the affected joint. Many patients will experience months of relief after an injection. You may need repeat injections to provide continued symptom control.
Surgery. Including joint replacement, surgery is often the best treatment for severe osteoarthritis or arthritis symptoms that are no longer responding to conservative interventions (PT, medication, injections).
Because osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, your treatment plan will change with time. Don’t be afraid to contact your healthcare provider whenever you experience an increase in symptoms.
Osteoarthritis Natural Treatment
There are a variety of lifestyle changes and natural treatments that have been shown to improve comfort and function. You can use most of these interventions alongside medical treatment.
Common natural treatments for osteoarthritis include:
Exercise. Regular physical activity may decrease osteoarthritis pain, improve joint function, and slow disease progression. Yoga and tai chi seem particularly helpful for people with osteoarthritis. Other good choices include swimming, walking and biking. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes with plenty of support.
Weight loss. Excess weight puts extra stress on your joints. Losing even a few pounds can cause a significant improvement in symptoms.
Glucosamine. A common nutritional supplement, glucosamine may ease knee osteoarthritis. However, some research studies do not show a benefit to taking glucosamine. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking nutritional supplements, as many interact with prescription medications.
Chondroitin. Another nutritional supplement, chondroitin may improve osteoarthritis symptoms. Caution: Chondroitin may interfere with the action of warfarin, a common blood thinner.
Topical capsaicin. Capsaicin is a chili pepper extract that’s found in several OTC ointments and creams. When applied to the skin of a joint, capsaicin causes a feeling of warmth and stinging. That may sound unpleasant, but it also interferes with the brain’s ability to process osteoarthritis discomfort. Many people report decreased pain when using topical capsaicin.
Acupuncture. Although not well-studied, acupuncture can relieve osteoarthritis pain and improve function, at least in some people.
Together, you and your healthcare provider can find the osteoarthritis treatment plan that’s most effective for you. Maintaining regular physicals, at least annually, will help you and your provider stay on top of the condition and, when necessary, step up your treatment plan.