Dealing with arthritis is something that can be painful, but there are a number of treatment options, including surgery, that can help reduce the pain.
Orthopedic Surgeon Michael Spagnuolo is trained in minimally invasive knee replacement and provided his opinion on ways to improve joint care.
“There is no way to avoid arthritis,” Spagnuolo said. “You can be predisposed due to genetics or injury, (but) once it sets in we look for treatment options. The best step is maintaining body weight — the less weight you put on those joints, the less pain there is.”
Spagnuolo’s specialty is hips and knees. The arthritis in those joints is a major source of pain for a lot of people.
“Along the ends of our joints is this smooth substance called cartilage,” Spagnuolo said. “When you get arthritis, that cartilage erodes and wears away. The joints become painful until you have bone grinding bone.”
According to Spagnuolo, inflammation in the joint is what causes the swelling and pain. Anti-inflamatory medications are a good starting point once the patient’s weight is under control. If or when that fails, there are also injections that can be inserted into the knees, such as cortozone. However, Spagnuolo cautioned to use cortozone sparingly as it can do more damage than good.
Another option is what Spagnuolo referred to as “disco supplementation,” which involves a series of gel injections into the knee that becomes a lubrication for what cartilage is left in the joint, which helps to reduce pain.
Physical therapy is another method Spagnuolo highly recommends. Above all, he said pain management is
important. While he does suggest anti-inflammatory medications as a pain reliever, he said they only cover the pain and do not address the underlying cause(s), which can lead to a dependency on pain medications if unchecked.
“Strengthening the other muscles around the joint helps to stabilize them, so the forces are spread out more evenly,” Spagnuolo said. “Ice, rest and over-the-counter braces can also be used to trap heat into the knee, which can also help with pain.”
Once all of those methods have either stopped working or if the patient’s pain interferes significantly with daily functions, surgical options to replace the joint are a last resort.
“We try to exhaust all non-surgical options well before we get to any surgical ones,” Spagnuolo said. “For the most part, everything will work for hips that works for knees, except disco supplementation. Everything holds true for the rest of the joints in the body as well. It is important to check with a doctor before starting anti-inflamatory medications because there could be side effects depending on the patient’s health history.”
Spagnuolo said when it comes to taking care of weight-bearing joints, such as the hip or knee, the best advice is to avoid activities or exercises that have heavy impact across the joint. He said biking is a good exercise, as is water aerobics — anything to help keep the patient’s weight down. He also emphasized how important it is to maintain a healthy body mass index and also recommended wearing shoes with a good cushion and insole.
“People with joint pain get caught in a cycle where they can’t move to lose weight,” Spagnuolo said. “That would be the main thing that could help (with) prevention. Staying active (and) keeping the joints loose is advisable. Keeping body and legs and muscles surrounding he joints strong to stabilize them is good.”