More Techniques Used for Osteoarthritis

Pain-Relief Techniques Used to Treat Osteoarthritis

As part of their treatment plan, people with osteoarthritis may find ways to relieve pain without the use of medications. Warm towels, hot packs, or a warm bath or shower can help relieve pain and stiffness in a joint. In some cases, cold packs (a bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel) can relieve pain or numb the sore area. (Check with your healthcare provider or physical therapist to find out if heat or cold is the best treatment.)
Water therapy in a heated pool or whirlpool may also relieve pain and stiffness. For knee osteoarthritis, people may wear insoles or cushioned shoes to redistribute weight and reduce joint stress.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a technique that uses a small electronic device to direct mild electric pulses to nerve endings that lie beneath the skin in the painful area. TENS may relieve some arthritis pain. It seems to work by blocking pain messages to the brain and by modifying pain perception.
Massage may also be helpful. With this pain-relief approach, a massage therapist will lightly stroke and/or knead the painful muscles. This may increase blood flow and bring warmth to a stressed area. However, arthritis-stressed joints are sensitive, so the therapist must be familiar with the problems of the disease.

Surgery as an Osteoarthritis Treatment

For many people, surgery helps relieve the pain and disability of osteoarthritis. Surgery may be performed as part of treating osteoarthritis to:
  • Remove loose pieces of bone and cartilage from the joint if they are causing mechanical symptoms of buckling or locking
  • Resurface (smooth out) bones
  • Reposition bones
  • Replace joints.
The two most common surgeries to replace joints are hip replacement surgery (total hip replacement) and knee replacement surgery (total knee replacement). For these types of joint replacement surgeries, surgeons may replace affected joints with artificial joints called prostheses. These joints can be made from metal alloys, high-density plastic, and ceramic material. They can be joined to bone surfaces by special cements.
Artificial joints can last 10 to 15 years or longer. About 10 percent of artificial joints may need revision. Surgeons choose the design and components of a prosthesis according to their patient's weight, sex, age, and activity level, as well as other medical conditions he or she may have.
The decision to use surgery depends on several things, such as how much the osteoarthritis symptoms are interfering with the person's lifestyle. Some other factors that both the surgeon and the patient will consider include the affected person's:
  • Level of disability
  • Intensity of pain
  • Age
  • Occupation.
Currently, more than 80 percent of osteoarthritis surgery cases involve replacing the hip or knee joint. After surgery and rehabilitation, the person usually feels less pain and swelling, and can move more easily.
(Click Hip Replacement or Knee Replacement for more detailed information on each of these surgeries.)
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