Prime Time Living - Page 6 - Living with arthritis

Prime Time Living
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Living with arthritis
Check out these remedies that help

By Margit B. Weisgal, Contributing Writer

Millions of people are living with one of the 100-plus varieties of arthritis, an inflammation of your joints, some better than others. Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the most prevalent form by far, but depending on how severe it is, you can usually carry with your daily life.

“There is no cure yet for arthritis,” says Marcy O’Koon, senior director of consumer health for the Arthritis Foundation ( www.arthritis.org ). “Arthritis can cause ongoing pain that interrupts your life and causes mobility problems. We’re working hard to correct that with our programs and services and by funding promising research as well as advocating for more government-funded research. Much more funding is needed given the number of people affected. Almost a fourth of adults have some form of arthritis, so if touches people in every walk of life.”

Research is ongoing and new therapies are being tested constantly. For types of arthritis aside from OA, and that includes rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout, to name a few, you should see a rheumatologist, a physician who specializes in these, because there are disease modifying treatments that can help prevent permanent joint damage. For OA, however, because of its commonality, often your primary doctor, a physiatrist or a general orthopedist can help you manage. You eventually might need to see an orthopedic surgeon.

With OA, no disease modifying treatments exist, but there are lots of options. To address the pain, which can be intermittent, most start out with over the counter remedies, analgesics like acetaminophen (Tylenol), and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – aspirin or ibuprofen). When the pain is fiercer and disrupts your life, your primary care physician may prescribe stronger drugs.

Opioids are not appropriate for early treatment because of the risks involved and they don’t necessarily work on chronic pain. With opioids, in most cases the harm outweighs the benefits.

Depending on the medication, it may be prescribed on an “as needed” basis, but others need to be taken daily, or at least regularly during a flare. You should follow directions for these as they help you keep ahead of the pain. In all cases, there are risks and benefits. Discuss the options with your doctor or a pharmacist, and make sure there are no interactions with pills you already take.

Some sufferers swear by supplements, none of which are approved or validated by the FDA, such as glucosamine and chondroitin. “If you’re curious, give one or the combination a fair try,” says O’Koon, “and see if it works for you. After, say, two or three months, don’t keep paying for them if you’re not getting relief. But these, just like prescription medications, can have interactions with other drugs you are taking, so it’s smart to talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.”

Topical rubs, gels, creams and patches may also provide relief. Capsaicin, derived from chili peppers, interrupts the pain signals. It’s one of those with cumulative effects, so the first dose may not work immediately. Other options include lidocaine patches or mentholatum. A complete list of options is on the Arthritis Foundation website.

“Lifestyle changes can’t cure, but they can be very helpful for arthritis,” says O’Koon. “That takes a personal commitment.

It may seem contradictory, but moving joints with exercise and general physical activity is important. Try different types of exercise to find something that you enjoy or at least can stick to. Walking is effective because it lubricates your joints.”

Do what you can, even if it’s for five minutes. Then build up to longer periods of time. Something is better than nothing. You won’t damage your joints and, in fact, will help them. “Recent studies show 10 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity is beneficial for arthritis,” says O’Koon, “so work up to a 10-minute walk, if you can, adding time and intensity as you are able.”

Balance activity and rest. Eat healthy. Lose weight. Strengthening exercises stabilize muscles around joints and help increase balance, too.

If it’s difficult to get going when you have OA, it may make sense to see a physical therapist or physiatrist to teach you which moves will help and how to do them safely so you can continue on your own. Since Maryland has direct access to

Remedies, continued on page 26