Osteoarthritis of the knee: Choosing the right pain medicine
How Osteoarthritis Pain Affects Your Body
Osteoarthritis pain hits the knees especially, but many people with osteoarthritis also have it in their hips, hands, and elsewhere. You can help control osteoarthritis pain by losing weight and exercising.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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What's the cause of your creaky, stiff joints? For millions of adults, the answer to that question is arthritis — and pain from osteoarthritis, the most common form, is a major cause of work disability in the United States.
Osteoarthritis pain is caused by the loss of cartilage that protects the ends of bones on both sides of your joints. Osteoarthritis pain is activity related, meaning it gets worse when you use the joint, and better when you rest it.
According to Jason Koh, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, "Osteoarthritis painis usually characterized by start-up pain (discomfort getting up from a seated position), but over time can become constant. Other types of arthritis typically have more of an inflammatory component, and often have significant joint swelling."
Osteoarthritis Pain in the Knee
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of persistent knee pain in people over the age of 45. Osteoarthritis knee pain may be noticed going up and down stairs or after standing and walking. "Pain tends to worsen as the day goes on," notes Jonathan Edwards, MD, a professor of connective tissue medicine at University College London, in England. "Sudden catching or giving way is quite common."
If you have osteoarthritis knee pain, losing weight can help. Studies show that being even 10 pounds overweight will increase the stress across your knee joint by 30 to 60 pounds. Exercise is also important to keep the muscles that support your knees strong. "Daily moderate exercise that is low impact can reduce pain," notes Mary P. Rapp PhD, RN, a professor of nursing at University of Texas Nursing School, in Houston. Rapp notes that osteoarthritis knee pain is made worse by both too much activity and too little activity. "Stair climbing, jogging, and prolonged sitting should be avoided," she says.
Hip Pain From Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis pain in the hip is about one-third as common as knee pain. Pain in the hip acts very much like knee pain. It is aggravated by stair-climbing and walking, and is relieved by rest. Hip osteoarthritis is more likely to run in families than osteoarthritis in the knee. Weight loss is important and so is avoiding overuse, but hip osteoarthritis does not respond as well to exercise as the knee. Dr. Koh recommends that people with hip osteoarthritis avoid stairs and low chairs, "Try using an elevated toilet seat, use a cane or walking stick, and install grab bars in the bathroom," he says.
Osteoarthritis Pain in the Hands
Structural changes in the joints caused by osteoarthritis are very common in the hands of older people but osteoarthritis only causes pain in about 10 percent of people with this type of osteoarthritis. Hand and finger pains are more likely to occur in people with osteoarthritis after making repetitive motions, such as writing or cooking. "Thumb-base and finger joint pains often last for a few years and then settle completely," notes Dr. Edwards.
RELATED: Low-Cost Ways to Ease Osteoarthritis Pain
There are many ways to avoid hand pain. Use helpful tools in the kitchen and around the house, like jar openers and electric can openers, whenever possible. Door knob extenders and key turners are available to open doors without twisting your wrist. Think about adding large pull tabs on zippers and installing molded and padded handles on doors, which are easier on arthritic fingers.
Neck and Spine Pain From Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis of the spine also occurs in the elderly, the most common areas being the neck and the lower back. Pain is increased with movement. In some cases an osteoarthritis bone spur can press on a nerve. "Individuals may notice shooting pains or weakness as the nerves leading to the arms or legs are compressed," says Rapp. Relief of osteoarthritis spine pain starts with exercise and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that support the spine. As with other areas of osteoarthritis, weight loss is important.
Treatment for all osteoarthritis pain starts with educating yourself about the disease. Lifestyle changes such as avoiding overuse of the joint, proper exercise, and weight loss are the first steps toward managing your pain. Your doctor may also start you on pain medications if you need them.
Video: Mayo Clinic Minute: Finding relief for osteoarthritis pain
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