The Ache of Arthritis

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteo-arthritis (OA), you’re familiar with the pain. It can ache deep in the joint or radiate down your leg. It’s a pain that feels better with rest and a pain that gets worse throughout the day.

Arthritis basically means inflammation of a joint. OA is characterized by a gradual loss of cartilage from the joints due to wear and tear over time. OA affects more than 30 million U.S. adults.

“Chronic arthritis can be hard, both physically and psychologically,” says Dr. Shahzad Anwar, a family practitioner with the Center for Primary Care in Vacaville. “Arthritis symptoms can cause frustration and even depression, which may reduce your motivation to stick with your arthritis treatment.”

By learning more about osteoarthritis, you can better participate in your own care and experience a productive encounter with your doctor.

What are the symptoms?

Arthritis can affect almost any joint, although it occurs most frequently in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving the joint easily.

“In the early to moderate stages of disease, OA follows the pattern of a non-inflammatory arthritis, which means that pain is aggravated by movement and weight bearing and is relieved by rest,” Dr. Anwar explains. Joints on one or both sides of the body may be affected. Patients often wake up with minimal symptoms and note that as the day progresses their symptoms increase.

These symptoms help distinguish OA from another class of arthritis known as Inflammatory Arthritis. This type of arthritis is usually more aggressive than OA and is often characterized by patients complaining of pronounced symptoms when waking up and then noticing that their symptoms dissipate as their body warms up and they move around through the course of the morning and early afternoon.

How is arthritis diagnosed?

A physical exam and a thorough medical history will help your physician make the diagnosis. Occasionally imaging modalities and lab tests will be used to aid in the diagnostic process. “Interestingly, patients can have OA with normal x-rays and vice-versa, while patients whose x-rays suggest advanced OA can be surprisingly symptom-free,” Dr. Anwar says.

“Therefore it’s always important to have a detailed discussion with your doctor so that your plan of care can be tailored to your needs.”

How is arthritis treated?

“It is important for patients to understand that there is often no cure for mild to moderate arthritis,” notes Dr. Anwar. There are however, many methods to help patients minimize their symptoms so that they can live life as pain-free as possible.

Some of these measures include:

Non Medical:

  • Learn about arthritis
  • Join an Arthritis Support Group
  • Eat a healthy diet and lose weight if necessary
  • Get regular exercise, as tolerated, including flexibility and condtioning work
  • Wear supportive shoes and add orthotics if needed
  • Use ice, heat, massage, spa treatments and acupuncture for pain relief
  • Try gait assistance devices, such as a cane or walker to keep mobile

Medical:

  • Dietary supplements: there is only anecdotal evidence that Glucosamine (not for patients allergic to shellfish) and Chondroitin help arthritis
  • Analgesics: Acetaminophen/Tylenol (pill), Capsaicin (gel)
  • Anti-Inflammatories: Ibuprofen (pill), Diclofenac (gel), Steroids
  • Disease modifying drugs: (requires evaluation by a Rheumatologist)

Surgical:

  • Partial or total joint replacements for advanced cases of OA

What to do next?

“I encourage all patients who think that they may have arthritis or who have debilitating pain from arthritis to discuss their symptoms with their doctor,” adds Dr. Anwar.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

While joint pain and stiffness are the most common signs of osteoarthritis, there are other very specific warning signs that can help you identify the disease. For osteoarthritis, they include:

  • Deep, aching joint pain
  • Pain that feels better with rest
  • Pain that radiates into your buttocks, thighs or groin
  • Joint pain that affects your posture and gait and may cause limping
  • Pain that occurs after using the joint
  • Swelling in the joint
  • Not being able to move the joint as much as usual
  • Feeling sensation of bones grating together in the joint
  • Pain when rising from a seated position or using stairs
  • Pain that increases with rainy weather

Painful Joints Can Be Replaced

When your pain can no longer be controlled and your quality of life is suffering, joint replacement surgery is an option to consider. The surgery can improve your mobility and relieve your pain.

The Joint Replacement Program at NorthBay VacaValley Hospital offers
hip and knee replacement surgery with a two- to three-day hospital stay. The joint replacement experts have carefully planned every step of the patient’s care to promote a successful and speedy recovery.

The first day is surgery and the following days focus on
getting the patient up and walking. A friend or family member serves as “coach” to help the patient and to learn about post-surgical care. When the patient goes home, he or she is visited by a home health nurse who helps with rehabilitation exercises until the patient is ready to attend out-patient rehabilitation.

For a list of surgeons participating in the program, or for more information about the NorthBay Joint Replacement Program, call Cynthia Giaquinto at (707) 624-7600.

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