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What's New In Osteoarthritis Treatment?

By James T. Caillouette, MD

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive disease that is sometimes referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis. It is the most common form of the disease?OA accounts for 80% of all arthritis cases–and about 30 million Americans are afflicted with the condition.

What happens with OA? Within the joints, an elastic tissue called articular cartilage covers the end of bones and helps them to glide smoothly against each other. Osteoarthritis results when chemical changes in the cartilage cause it to break down faster than it can be produced. When the cartilage gradually wears away, it becomes painful to move the joint.

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body. Symptoms range from mild to disabling, and include pain and inflammation, swelling, stiffness, loss of range of motion, and weakness.

The good news is: many non-surgical treatments for OA are constantly evolving and yielding good results for patients. Omega-3 fish oil and the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been shown to improve osteoarthritis symptoms in some patients. Exercise–especially Pilates or swimming–and weight control are very effective in managing and treating OA. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce inflammation.

In terms of surgical treatment of OA, there has been a sea change in current medical wisdom on the timing of intervention. The old mantra was that patients should postpone surgery until the pain was nearly unbearable. We now know that assessment is just plain wrong. Many studies have demonstrated that, for patients with significant arthritis, there is no benefit to waiting on their surgery. In fact, clinical data show that postponing surgery only creates collateral damage to other structures in the body. Patients are much better off if we intervene sooner rather than later.

There are new advancements that are proving of great benefit to those patients who do opt for surgery. Techniques such as less invasive hip or knee replacement result in smaller incisions, less post-operative discomfort and quicker recovery times. Patients can get on with their lives sooner than ever before.

If you or a loved one is suffering with OA, seek medical attention. Chances are very good that your orthopedist can help you restore your quality of life and live as pain-free as possible.