According to the Arthritis Foundation, “‘arthritis is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease.'” With more than 100 different types, arthritis affects people of all ages, and it’s the leading cause of disability in the United States. Learn more about arthritis and how you can manage the pain.
Two types of arthritis: OA vs. RA
OA stands for “osteoarthritis,” which refers to the wearing out of cartilage that cushions a joint. Normal cartilage allows the bones forming a joint to move freely against one another and without causing friction. Severe arthritis causes the wearing away or cracking of this smooth cartilage that covers the ends of the bones and leads to the bones rubbing against each other causing chronic pain and decreased function. This type of arthritis can cause a “grinding” sensation when you move and may cause a constant, dull aching pain in the joint. Swelling and stiffness often occur. OA is one of the most common types of arthritis that is diagnosed. There are several factors which are believed to contribute to the development of OA, including age, obesity, overuse, heredity, and other diseases.
In contrast to OA, RA is rheumatoid arthritis, a more complicated diagnosis. RA is a systemic disease, which means it affects the entire body. It is an autoimmune disease. Normally your immune system protects the body from disease. In RA, it is thought that the immune system turns against your body. Different from OA, RA affects the synovial membrane, or the inner lining of the joint capsule, which acts as a lubricant to decrease friction and wear in the joint. The synovial membrane becomes hot, swollen, and painful. The disease gradually destroys the cartilage, bone, and other parts of the joint. RA symptoms include joint and muscle pain, morning stiffness, swelling and tenderness in several joints, fatigue, fever, and decreased appetite which can cause weight loss.
Treating Arthritis Pain at Early Stages
So, what can be done to treat your joint pain? Initially, physicians will proceed with non-surgical treatment first. This may include resting the joint, receiving physical therapy treatments, using heat and cold, splinting or bracing, and taking NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Motrin, and Advil.
Your physician may prescribe physical therapy for you to help build strength to better support the joint, to teach you ways to reduce your pain, and to offer advice to you about recommended equipment. Completing physical therapy during this time may allow you to help delay a surgery. Whether a surgery is needed at this point or not, doing the exercises will prove beneficial to your post-surgical recovery. It may also be recommended for you to receive cortisone-like injections in the joint. If these treatments do not help, it may be time to consider total joint replacement surgery.
Total Joint Replacements for Arthritis
If you are finding that your everyday life activities and sleep are affected, your quality of life is worsening, and your joint pain is increasing, then total joint surgery may be the answer.
What is total joint surgery or arthroplasty? Total joint surgery is removal of the damaged or diseased portion of a joint and then replacing the surfaces with an artificial joint or prosthesis. Whatever the joint being replaced, the prostheses are made of strong metal and durable plastic components. They can be attached to your existing bone with cement or may be made of a porous material that will encourage your own bone to grow into the prosthesis.
The #1 goal of this surgery is improve your quality of life. Research is finding that the prostheses, or joint replacement device, for total joints can last more than 20 years, and the increase in your quality of life is maintained for at least seven years or more following surgery depending on the type of prosthesis.
Some facts to know about the surgery are that it generally takes about 60 to 75 minutes to complete, and the total healing time after surgery is about 15 months. Will you have pain after total joint surgery? The answer is yes. Will this pain resolve and allow you to resume a more active lifestyle? The answer is yes again.
Following your total joint replacement surgery, physical therapy will be involved to evaluate your needs and work with you to establish an optimal treatment plan to return you to your life’s daily activities. Physical therapy will assist you in decreasing your pain, improving your muscle strength, increasing your range of motion, teaching you the proper exercises to do, and instructing you in the use of any equipment that you may need. Besides physical therapy, there will be a number of health care professionals working with you before and after surgery to help with your care.
So, if your joint pain is stopping you from enjoying your life and you have tried other avenues to reduce that pain, why not investigate the option of replacing that painful joint?