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Arthritis Treatment Methods

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/29/2010

Osteoarthritis results in inflammation of the joints. This type of arthritis can affect the knees, hips, ankles and other body joints. Several arthritis treatment methods reduce inflammation and keep the pain of arthritis under control.

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    Exercise

    It may seem counter-intuitive to exercise when you have osteoarthritis pain, but regular exercise can actually improve the symptoms of arthritis. Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints, improves flexibility and increases range of motion. Before starting an exercise plan, consult a physician to learn which exercises to use and which to avoid. A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to minimize pain and improve the symptoms of your arthritis.

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    Joint Support

    Supporting the affected joints can improve the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Braces support the knees and elbows, which reduces arthritis symptoms. Special shoes or energy-absorbing shoe inserts can reduce the impact of walking on hard surfaces. This improves the symptoms of arthritis in the knees and joints of the lower extremities. Canes, unloader braces and support braces can shift weight off of the affected knee, lessening pain.

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    Lifestyle Changes

    Sometimes, one of the most effective forms of arthritis treatment involve lifestyle changes that reduce pain and stiffness. Because overweight and obesity put extra strain on the joints, losing weight can reduce the inflammation and stiffness of osteoarthritis. A sensible diet and exercise program can help you shed these pounds safely. Do not participate in vigorous exercise plans without the approval of a physician. The food you eat also plays a role in how much inflammation occurs as the result of arthritis. Some vitamins actually reduce inflammation, so eating a diet high in these vitamins can help decrease inflammation. Vitamin C prevents inflammation related to free radical damage and vitamin K helps rebuild cartilage around the joints. Selenium is known to reduce swelling and improve the health of joint tissue, so add selenium-rich foods to your diet. Foods high in selenium include shrimp, Brazil nuts, salmon, lamb and pumpkin seeds.

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    Hydrotherapy

    Hydrotherapy involves performing exercises while immersed in a swimming pool, large tub or whirlpool. The water provides a low-impact environment for performing these exercises, which allows those with osteoarthritis to strengthen their joints without causing additional pain and damage. The warm water also soothes the body and provides relief for arthritis symptoms. During this treatment, a hydrotherapist guides the patient in performing the exercises safely and correctly.

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    Topical Medications

    Arthritis treatment with topical medications involves applying ointments, creams and liniments directly to sore, stiff joints. One of the most popular topical medications for this condition is BENGAY. This substance produces heat when applied to the joints, relieving arthritis symptoms. Other creams used to treat arthritis include Aspercreme, Icy Hot, Zostrix, Mineral Ice and Tiger Balm. After applying these creams to the joints, avoid coming in contact with upholstery and other fabrics, as the creams can stain fabrics permanently. To avoid stained sheets, purchase a large towel or pad to sleep on while you use arthritis creams.

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    Heat and Ice Application

    Applying heat or ice directly to an inflamed joint may provide relief from the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Heat relaxes the muscles around the joints, while ice minimizes inflammation and swelling. Avoid applying heating pads or cold packs directly to the skin. Instead, wrap the product in a pillowcase or hand towel. This reduces the risk of skin damage and burns.

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    Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

    Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the inflammation caused by arthritis. Acetaminophen, the drug found in Tylenol, can reduce this inflammation, as can over-the-counter aspirin. Because aspirin thins the blood, talk to a doctor before taking this medication for arthritis pain. Those who already take blood thinners or have an increased risk of bleeding may not be able to take aspirin. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also reduce inflammation. These drugs, which include ibuprofen and naproxen, have over-the-counter and prescription forms. NSAIDs increase the risk for gastrointestinal bleeding, so those with ulcers and other bleeding disorders should not take these medications without consulting a physician.

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    Learn the Benefits of Risks of Popular Arthritis Treatment Methods: Medications, Injections and Surgical ProceduresArthritis treatment methods include anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids, injections and surgery to repair joint damage. The type of treatment you undergo will depend on your medical history, the severity of your arthritis symptoms and the treatment methods you have tried in the past.
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    Another group of anti-inflammatory drugs, COX-2 inhibitors, have effects similar to those of NSAIDS, but they work differently in the body. Celebrex and Vioxx are examples of COX-2 inhibitors, but it's important to note that Vioxx was removed from the market following reports of fatal side effects. Those with a history of stroke, chest pain, heart attack and other cardiac conditions should not use one of these drugs without the approval of a physician because of the possible side effects. Do not combine COX-2 inhibitors with NSAIDs, aspirin or acetaminophen.

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    Corticosteroids

    Corticosteroids reduce the swelling , joint pain and warmth of osteoarthritis and other forms of arthritis. Cortisone, methylprednisolone and prednisone are examples of corticosteroid drugs. These drugs do have several risks and side effects, which increase as the dosage of the drug increases. Side effects include mood swings, weight gain, blurred vision, muscle weakness, acne, easy bruising, slow-healing wounds and slowed growth. In those who use corticosteroids for long periods of time, some of the side effects include glaucoma, high blood pressure and severe muscle weakness.

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    Hyaluronic Acid

    Hyaluronic acid seems to restore the viscous properties of the synovial fluid that surrounds the joints. For severe osteoarthritis of the knee, a doctor or nurse practitioner can administer injections of this acid directly into the spaces around the joint. The effects of these injections often last for several months, making this arthritis treatment method a good alternative to daily drug therapy. The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that hyaluronic acid injections have few systemic effects, with most patients reporting only minor pain at the injection site. The expense of hyaluronic acid injections makes them difficult for those without insurance to obtain.

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    Glucosamine and Chondroitin

    Glucosamine and chondroitin occur naturally in the cartilage that surrounds the joints. Some people take glucosmine and chondroitin supplements to ease arthritis symptoms, but no medical evidence exists to support the use of these supplements for arthritis. Because some forms of glucosamine contain shellfish products, do not take this supplement if you have a shellfish allergy. If you decide to try glucosamine and chondroitin, tell your doctor, as dietary supplements can worsen some medical conditions or interfere with prescription and over-the-counter medications.

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    Arthroscopic Surgery

    During arthroscopic surgery, a surgeon makes an incision in the skin surrounding a joint, inserts small instruments that illuminate joint problems and treats joint problems as appropriate. The arthroscope is attached to a camera, which displays the joint on a television screen. This allows the surgeon to visualize any problems with the joint and fix them without having to do more invasive surgery. The possible complications of this type of surgery include blood clots, infection, nerve damage, blood vessel damage and excessive swelling. This procedure has a shorter recovery time than total joint replacement and other, more invasive, forms of surgery.

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    Joint Arthroplasty

    During arthroplasty, a surgeon repairs damage to the joints. This involves resurfacing the joints or may involve the insertion of a joint prosthesis. This procedure usually requires a patient to stay in the hospital for several days and modify his physical activities at home. Those who receive arthroplasty may need to modify their homes by adding handrails to stairs or installing safety rails in the shower. Risks of this procedure include infection, blood clots and excessive bleeding.

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    References

    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Arthritis of the Knee

    UW Medicine: Corticosteroids for Arthritis

    American Academy of Family Physicians: Intra-articular Hyaluronic Acid Injections for Knee Osteoarthritis

    WebMD: Glucosamine and Chondroitin

    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Arthroscopy

    Lancaster General Health: Arthroplasty