Treating Osteoarthritis: How Can I Keep My Range of Motion?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It’s sometimes called “wear-and-tear” arthritis because it is the result of joint cartilage wearing away, causing bone to rub on bone, and the most common symptoms are joint pain, swelling, and joint stiffness.
OA often develops as we age, but there are other risk factors like family history, previous injury (such as injury to the ACL), and excess weight that contribute to developing OA. OA typically affects the knees, hips, and small hand joints.
While OA is more common in older adults, it can develop in working age (18-64) adults as well, and some of the risk factors mentioned above can jumpstart its development. Without treatment, OA becomes extremely painful and greatly limits a person’s mobility. Lost mobility has a huge impact on someone’s quality of life, including the activities they can take part in, their care of themselves and their home, and their relationships with family and other loved ones.
How is OA different from other kinds of arthritis?
Arthritis is a broad term for over 100 different joint diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis. OA is the most common form of arthritis that affects around 30 million Americans, and it is the fifth most common form of disability worldwide.
OA is different from other forms of arthritis because it is a degenerative form of joint damage, meaning it’s caused by the overuse of joints, such as from playing sports, physically demanding occupations, and other activities that have repetitive motions. Additionally, OA will worsen over time, especially without treatment.
Other forms of arthritis are inflammatory (caused by an overactive immune system), infectious (caused by infection of a virus or bacteria), or metabolic (caused by ineffective metabolic activity).
Current Treatments for OA
There currently is no cure for OA, but there are several options to lessen the symptoms of OA. Most of these treatments can be used in combination with each other for a complete plan that addresses many, if not all, the factors of OA that contribute to loss of mobility.
While it seems counterproductive, activity and exercise are important to prevent OA from worsening. Regular, low-impact activities help prevent muscle loss and improve strength, which adds support to arthritic joints.
For mild to moderate joint pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve some of the pain and swelling associated with OA. NSAIDs include over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Mortin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin. There are also prescription strengths of these medicines as well as medications like celecoxib (Celebrex), ketorolac (Toradol), and diclofenac (Zorvolex).
Analgesics are another type of medication for OA, although these medications treat pain but not inflammation. The most common analgesic is acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, and it’s available in over-the-counter as well as a prescription for a higher strength.
As with all medications, there are side effects of taking analgesics or NSAIDs, especially if taken long-term. The most common side effect of NSAIDs is stomach irritation, including the potential to develop stomach ulcers if taken regularly over a long period of time. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if taken long-term with the potential to cause liver failure.
Since OA is a chronic condition, those with OA are more likely to use pain relievers and anti-inflammatories regularly and in higher doses, heightening their risk for these side effects. And while medications relieve the pain, they won’t increase the range of motion for an affected joint long-term.
One common treatment for inflammation caused by OA and other forms of arthritis are corticosteroid injections. These medications mimic the function of the natural hormone cortisol, which plays a role in reducing inflammation.
These medications are injected directly into the affected joint, and patients have to follow up with additional injections every couple months. Additionally, OA can progress to a point where this anti-inflammatory method stops working. And, as with any injection, there’s a risk of infection.
There’s a few options for therapy to help reduce the pain of OA and improve range of motion. Therapies usually require committing to a treatment plan, meaning they’ll need consistent office visits.
Physical therapy helps patients build strength in supporting muscles and improve range of motion. A physical therapist will guide patients through exercises to improve strength and restore motion. They can also assist patients with correcting posture to relieve pain and using assistive devices like walkers and canes.
Occupational therapists help patients modify their activity or their living spaces to better suit OA. For example, an occupational therapist might show a patient a different way to do any activity so it’s less painful. They may also assess a person’s home or workplace and offer modifications or assistive devices to make tasks more comfortable.
Laser therapy is the use of a laser device attuned to a specific wavelength, in the red or near-infrared (NIR) spectrum, to produce a chemical change in the body. Laser therapy is a common treatment for pain and inflammation of all types, acute or chronic. During a laser therapy treatment, a technician holds a concentrated laser light over certain points of the body for a few seconds to a few minutes to target the condition inside the body.
Laser therapy increases the production of certain white blood cells that act as inflammatory mediators to reduce inflammation quickly. Additionally, the treatment provides pain relief by decreasing levels of the pain-eliciting chemical, bradykinin.
If OA progresses too far and other treatments have stopped working, the affected joint can be replaced with an artificial one to regain mobility. Once healed, artificial joints are effective at restoring mobility. However, recovery can take weeks or months, and surgery comes with a risk of complications such as infection, and these risks increase as a person ages.
Benefits of Laser Therapy for OA
Laser therapy is an effective option for pain management and the reduction of inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. The following are some of the benefits of laser therapy compared to other pain and inflammation solutions:
- Laser therapy promotes the body’s natural processes for resolving inflammation
- Laser therapy has none of the side effects of NSAID and analgesic medications
- Laser therapy treatments are painless, and patients feel the effects of the treatment right away
- The effects of laser therapy last longer than effects of other methods, including corticosteroid injections. Laser therapy can help with pain and inflammation for up to three months after a completed course of treatment.
There’s a lot of treatment options available to help prevent further joint damage and minimize the pain and inflammation of OA. If you’re interested in trying laser therapy as an alternative to pain relieving medications, click the link below to find an Aspen Laser provider near you.