Three Levels of Osteoarthritis Pain Relief
Whether it comes on suddenly or slowly over time, osteoarthritis pain can be debilitating. It can keep you from doing the things you love and decrease your enjoyment of life.
I find it helpful to separate arthritis pain into three major categories based on how it is ultimately resolved: pain that patients can treat successfully on their own, pain that requires specialized treatment, and joint-replacement pain. As physicians, we find that it’s best to approach each phase in order. This method reduces or eliminates pain without undertaking unnecessary treatments.
Going it alone. Especially when your arthritis pain is new, it makes sense to attempt home treatments. Pain relievers; topical treatments, like over-the-counter creams with lidocaine; along with rest, ice, compression, and elevation often go a long way to reduce pain on their own. A few weeks of careful home treatment may be all that is necessary.
Getting help. If you find that home treatment is not improving the pain, it makes sense to make an appointment with an orthopedist. The specialist will take your health history, listen closely to your symptoms and how you have been using your joint, and conduct a physical exam.
The doctor may be able to diagnose based on the information you have given or may need to conduct an imaging study, like an X-Ray or MRI. The doctor may give you additional actions to try at home or recommend a treatment or physical therapy.
The doctor will recommend the treatments he or she feels will be effective in order of least to most invasive. There are many new and innovative treatments available, and getting to the end of that list may take some time. Most patients will find relief with one of the treatments recommended.
Considering replacement. Surgery is not a decision we make lightly, and neither should you. Surgery, no matter how routine, is always serious. But if nothing you have tried has worked and osteoarthritis pain is limiting your activities, joint replacement is a great next step.
Your doctor will recommend you register for a joint replacement class. The class includes presentations from many individuals that you meet along the way, including nurses and physical therapists. Together, they provide a complete picture about how to prepare for your surgery and take you, step-by-step, through an explanation of everything that happens.
If you are addressing your arthritis pain in any of these ways, you are moving forward in a positive way and you will likely find the relief you are looking for. If you are suffering and finding your life and activities limited due to arthritis pain, I encourage you to take the next step in the process. You won’t regret getting the help you need.
Suk Namkoong, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at SVMC Orthopedics in Bennington.