Overcoming Osteoarthritis Pain
Prevention and Treatment Physicians give expert insight into the most common form of arthritis in Canada, and what patients can do to manage their pain.
ur joints, from our shoulders to our knees and toes, are constantly working to keep us moving, but with time, wear and tear from conditions such as osteoarthritis can force us to slow down.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis in Canadians, occurs when cartilage — the greasy cap that acts as a cushion between joints, allowing them to move and bend with little friction — begins to disappear.
“The cartilage can almost look like a threadbare rug, where it’s nice and thick in some places but worn in others,” says rheumatologist Dr. Evelyn Sutton, describing what osteoarthritis can look like in patients.
According to The Arthritis Society, the degenerative condition affects 1 in every 10 Canadians, and the risk for developing it increases with age. Those living with osteoarthritis can experience joint pain, stiffness, and swelling — symptoms that can greatly impact their quality of life.
“It’s living with the pain that’s a big problem for a lot of patients,” says Sutton, explaining that simple everyday tasks like bending over to put on shoes or sitting down for dinner can become challenging for those living with the condition.
Exercise and eat healthy
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are ways that patients can improve their joint function and relieve their pain.
"By helping to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis (which is often chronic), we can give patients an improved quality of life."
The two primary things that have been shown to alter the course of osteoarthritis, Sutton explains, are maintaining a healthy weight and strengthening the muscles around the affected joints. Getting up and moving can be a pain in the joints for osteoarthritis patients, but exercise is crucial for slowing the progression of the disease.
“It can be a vicious cycle: patients can’t do as much exercise since they’re in pain, so they gain more weight, and as they gain more weight it accelerates their arthritis,” says Sutton.
Exercising is crucial for slimming down any extra pounds that can cause added stress to weight-bearing joints like hips and knees. Experts advise patients to skip the treadmill and to opt for activities like swimming or yoga that are easy on the joints but that still allow for a full range of motion. The Arthritis Society also advises patients to eat a healthy and balanced diet by reducing their intake of fats and sugars and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Medicine can make a difference
In addition to exercise and diet, physicians may also recommend painkillers, such as acetaminophen (TYLENOL®) and anti-inflammatories, to help manage osteoarthritis pain symptoms.
“In seniors, sometimes this benefit can be the difference between independent and dependent living."
“By helping to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis (which is often chronic), we can give patients an improved quality of life,” says chronic pain specialist Dr. Michael Zahavi. “They may be able to participate in exercise again, which not only encourages mental wellness but may also slow the progression of disability due to osteoarthritis.”
Acetaminophen (i.e. TYLENOL®), when taken at the correct dosage, is considered the “first line treatment*” because it is gentle on the stomach, often most suitable for patients taking multiple medications, and effective for treating arthritis pain.
“In seniors, sometimes this benefit can be the difference between independent and dependent living,” says Zahavi.
Since osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, time is of the essence. Both Zahavi and Sutton recommend that patients be proactive about their osteoarthritis by speaking with their doctor and figuring out what lifestyle changes and possible medications can help.
“Take control of what you can,” says Sutton.