Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disorder in the US, as 54.4 million American adults suffer from it, according to this PubMed article. In addition, this study points out that the number of people with osteoarthritis is supposed to increase to almost 80 million, by 2040.
The risk of OA increases with age, young people aren’t necessarily immune to it either. The last study we just referenced states that over 7% of people ages 18 to 44 years-old also suffer from osteoarthritis (or other types of arthritis).
Since there’s no permanent cure for OA to this day, you have to remain persistent and disciplined in order to come out on top in your battle against osteoarthritis.
So, what should you aim your persistence and discipline at? To give you some ideas, let us do what we do best and present you with some clinical trials and expert opinions in a digestible way.
RELIEVING THE PAIN
Simple neoprene braces or sleeves are known to decrease pain, as well as improve function, in people suffering from OA (source: PubMed). Braces or sleeves also stabilize the joint and give you more balance, which is particularly beneficial for the elderly. Needless to say, wearing a brace gives you some protection in the unfortunate event that something makes a physical impact on your knee.
Taping (with the kind of tape athletes use to tape their ankles) can be very good for the younger osteoarthritis fighters, as it is observed to significantly reduce pain. Taping may not be the best option for the older folk due to the difficulty of applying and its risk of skin harm.
Topical NSAIDs are gels like Diclofenac (or, as you’ll most likely see it at the store – Voltaren) and many others which are widely recommended (like in this Harvard Med School article) for reducing pain from osteoarthritis.
If you are at all familiar with our website, you’d know that we aren’t big fans of NSAIDs. That’s because they normally are taken in the form of pills, which has been proven to be dangerous for your kidneys, and even your heart.
Though the topical NSAIDs aren’t exactly harmless, they seem to show far fewer signs of side effects than the pill versions. Ask your doctor before applying topical NSAIDs (something you should do for any medical-related issue you read about on this website, or anywhere else on the Internet for that matter).
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It’s basically a little unit which has several electrodes (little square or circular pad looking thingies) hooked up by wires. Once the electrodes are placed on your aching body area, the TENS unit releases a low voltage electrical current, which increases your pressure pain threshold (as pointed out by this Journal of American Physical Therapy Association article).
Though this may sound like a bad thing, it’s not. Your pressure pain threshold is the minimum amount of pressure which causes pain. So the higher your PPT, the more pressure that needs to be applied for you to feel pain, which is a great thing! If you are interested in TENS, please talk to a professional. Needless to say, applying electricity to your body may cause harm, if not done properly. Here’s a very educational YouTube video explaining the process of using TENS.
IMPROVING FUNCTION, STRENGTH, AND RANGE of MOTION
As this PubMed article showed, massaging (in this case, not massage by a therapist) with ice for 20 minutes a day, for two weeks, increased muscle strength and the range of motion in the knee compared to no treatment for people with osteoarthritis. Also, those who applied ice took less time to walk 50 feet compared to those who did not use ice. The same research pointed to another study, which showed that ice treatment reduced swelling more than no treatment at all.
If you’re in a great shape, don’t waste your time reading this part. Just know your neighbor lady secretly hates you. Anyway, now that we have gotten the corny jokes out of the way, it’s time to note that this study showed there’s a direct correlation between weight loss and improvement in function. According to the study, for every 10% of lost weight, there’s 28% improvement in function.
By far the biggest factor for weight loss is your diet, and more specifically your calorie intake. So, instead of starving yourself to death, visit the IIFYM calculator, which seems to be the best calorie and macro calculator out there. Just punch in your current weight, your desired weight, and some other information of the same type, and learn what your weight loss calorie count is. It’s free.
As this PubMed review of dozens of clinical trials showed, exercising significantly improved function, increased strength and decreased pain related to osteoarthritis. Many sources, including this article, recommend exercising for young people suffering from osteoarthritis. Most studies in the same review have their participants exercise three times a week. High-intensity exercise (without overloading of course) showed better results than lower intensity exercise.
Though the specific exercises practiced in those studies were not disclosed, we know that the participants used Therabands (i.e. resistance bands), cuff weights, and machines (like the ones you use at the gym). We also know that those participants who practiced high-intensity exercising did 3 sets of 8 repetitions with about 60% of their one repetition maximum weight/resistance/effort. In other words, if the heaviest weight a person could lift is 50 lbs. for a certain exercise, they would do that same exercise for 8 repetitions of 30 lbs. in a set
In his article, David J. Hunter, a Dean at Harvard Med School, states that it is important for a workout routine to be personalized to one’s preferences and needs and circumstances. Professor Hunter also advises against high-velocity exercises (such as running, aerobics, etc.), as those exercises may further damage your cartilage.
If you’re not a fan of the gym, try swimming and/or cycling. As this trial shows, swimming or cycling for 45 minutes a day, three days a week, reduced joint pain and stiffness and improved muscle strength and functional capacity associated with osteoarthritis. The results were observed three months after the first workout.
Even though you should consult with a specialist and follow a personalized routine, we decided to list a few YouTube home workout videos you may or may not find helpful.
As with any other shared material, we cannot guarantee that these exercises are safe or to confirm that they indeed work. Consult with a physical therapist, to develop a personalized routine that can help you safely improve strength, function, and range of motion for your case of osteoarthritis.
Here’s a link to an article, published by the Harvard Medical School, for a few additional exercises and tips.
No warrior can fight 24/7. We encourage you to take advantage of any opportunity you get to have fun and put a mental pause on your battle against osteoarthritis.
Some argue that the opposite approach may also help. Meditation, or the process of achieving a heightened awareness, may also be an option for comfort from osteoarthritis, according to this study. Despite its small sample size, the trial indicated that 15-20 minutes of meditation for eight weeks reduced pain, improved function and improved general feeling of well-being. If you want to read up on meditation and arthritis in detail, check out this post by arthritis.org. Meditation is praised across a wide spectrum of people, from neuroscientists to spiritual gurus. In any case, meditation is safe and free from side effects, which makes it worth considering.