Managing arthritis doesn’t have to be a pain
Arthritis is arthritis, right? And it’s just something every adult must face and endure as we get older, right? Wrong, wrong and wrong! There are two main types of arthritis, not every adult will experience arthritis, and there are pain management options for those who do experience either form of the disease.
When your body’s own immune system attacks your joints and causes inflammation and pain, rheumatoid arthritis is the culprit. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause permanent damage to your cartilage when it disrupts the balance of synovial fluids in joints, and it can be hereditary.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It can result from the wear and tear our bodies experience with age, or it can result from a secondary cause (like an injury or obesity) or even rheumatoid arthritis.
“It’s the job of cartilage to act as a cushion to allow the bones to be flexible,” explains Dr. Rwad Nasr, a rheumatologist at Hennepin Healthcare. “When that cartilage thins due to arthritis, bones come too close to one another and that’s where stiffness, pain and even mild swelling can develop.”
“I was managing my hip pain with over-the-counter medications, but I reached a point where I needed something more,” describes Karen, diagnosed with osteoarthritis after dealing with pain for many years.
“I thought it was just part of growing older and that there was not much that could be done about it, short of possibly hip replacement. I was really surprised that they offered solutions – an anti-inflammatory – that was specifically for arthritis. I finally got relief after waiting for so long. I wish I had gone in sooner!”
Dr. Nasr sees patients like Karen all the time, and while he’s glad they achieve pain management, he’s sorry that they are living with pain until it’s unbearable.
“There are so many options, and there’s no need to wait to see a doctor,” he explains. “Between anti-inflammatory medications that target the joints to physical therapy and stretching exercises, we can offer interventions that can help.”
Starting with a physical examination, Dr. Nasr checks the joints for tenderness, swelling and if range of motion is affected. Sometimes an x-ray is also required, where narrowed spaces between the bones can indicate cartilage damage.
“Most of the time weight loss and strengthening exercises along with pain management, topical, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications are our first choices for treatment,” says Dr. Nasr. “Antidepressants can even be used for pain. Steroid injections are also an option – but only if other front-line treatments aren’t effective, and they are only a short-term fix.”
If you’re living with joint pain and are concerned that you may have arthritis, schedule an appointment with your doctor. There may be comprehensive treatment options that can get you back on track to living a pain-free, active life.
Dr. Rawad Nasr is the Division Director of Rheumatology at Hennepin Healthcare who specializes in autoimmune diseases and connective tissue diseases. In addition, Dr. Nasr has a special interest in treating patients with vasculitis. He also enjoys teaching medical students, residents and fellows. Dr. Nasr sees patients at Hennepin Healthcare’s Clinic & Specialty Center as well as its Brooklyn Park Clinic.