Arthritis Advice: How to Reduce Risk and Decrease Symptoms of Arthritis

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(ADOBE STOCK / SasinParaksa)

Arthritis is a common, complex and often debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s a term that encompasses more than 100 types of joint diseases and conditions.

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation in Greek or Latin, and the signs are numerous.

“People experience inflammation of the joint as primarily pain, but there is also stiffness, swelling, warmth and feelings of instability,” says Dr. David Buchalter, an orthopedic surgeon with the Centers for Advanced Orthopedics – OrthoMaryland and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Deformity of the joint can also be a sign of arthritis, he says.

While heredity is an unavoidable cause of arthritis, there are other causes that can be prevented or managed in a way that improves quality of life. “Weight tends to impact the lower spine and lower extremities,” Buchalter says. “Injury is another cause that is modifiable to some degree.”

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis—the “typical wear and tear type of arthritis,” Buchalter says, also known as degenerative joint disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease by which the immune system is attacking healthy cells in the body by mistake.

(Courtesy of David Buchalter)

Dr. Allison Fillar, a Baltimore-area orthopedic surgeon who is affiliated with MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, recommends seeing a specialist “if your symptoms are beginning to impact regular activities of daily living.”

For someone newly diagnosed with arthritis, it’s important to have a good understanding of what the disease process involves and the various options available for treatment, from medicines and physical therapy to surgery, Fillar says.

Arthritis is diagnosed initially based on a patient history and physical exam, Buchalter says. X-rays are recommended, as well as advanced imaging. Blood test and joint fluid analysis are also helpful in making a diagnosis.

Some treatment options for arthritis include:

Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs can help reduce pain and inflammation in the joints.

Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help improve strength, flexibility and range of motion in the affected joints. “A body in motion stays in motion,” Fillar says, “Working on a strength program can provide a strong foundation around the joints that have arthritis,” she adds. For those with arthritis in the hips, knees or ankles, she recommends non-weight bearing exercises. For arthritis in the back or hips, she advises core stabilization exercises.

Diet: Emerging research shows that diet, particularly a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds, may be able to reduce inflammation that can lead to arthritis, Fillar says. She said that turmeric, which contains curcumin, can help alleviate symptoms, as can omega-3 supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin.

(Courtesy of Allison Fillar)

Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and avoiding activities that worsen symptoms can help manage arthritis, Buchalter says.

Surgery: In severe cases of arthritis, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace damaged joints. “Sometimes people get to the point where they can’t tolerate the symptoms anymore,” Fillar says. “That’s when they should consider joint replacement.”

While there is currently no cure for arthritis, advancements in medical research and treatment options offer help for those living with a condition that is a leading cause of disability.

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