Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among U.S. adults over 55, and in many cases leads to total-joint replacements. That is a big decision that is sometimes necessary, sometimes premature.
Total-joint replacements are wonderful and can be life-changing, but they also can wear down and become infected. The best approach for arthritis of the knee, for example, is to wait as long as possible before replacing the knee. There are several steps you can take to deal with arthritis before a surgical option. These measures, some of which you can perform without the aid of a medical professional, often can significantly lessen the pain and improve the quality of life.
Eat nutritious foods; keep your weight under control
Weight loss reduces the stress on your knees and increases mobility. Why not try an anti-inflammatory diet? Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation of the arteries as well as inflammation of the joints.
Wear good shoes with arch supports
With weight bearing and time, the arches in feet tend to fail. Good shoes with arch supports improve the alignment of the feet and ultimately improve the alignment of the knees. The feet and ankles act as shock absorbers for the knees.
Have a daily exercise and balance program
Studies show that arthritic patients who exercise do much better than those who don’t. Romano recommends a 20-minute daily exercise program for all patients with arthritis. Exercise should include stretching, aerobic activity, and strength training.
Use a hinged knee brace, as needed, for support
Wear the smallest brace that makes you the most comfortable. Do not wear the brace for everyday activities but for extra activities such as golfing, shopping or exercise. It unloads the arthritic area and allows you to pursue more pain-free activities, which you may not have been able to do otherwise.
Improve your bone health
Improving your bone health with increased calcium intake, daily vitamin D, and weight-bearing exercises can lessen the pain of arthritis. Should you eventually need a total joint replacement, building up your bone density will improve your chances of having a long-lasting replacement.
Arthritis is not something that can be removed with surgery or scraped out with a scope. Listen to your joints. When you’ve tried all of these non-surgical measures and they don’t seem to work any longer, surgery may be your best option. If so, rapid and successful recovery is possible by having optimized your physical and nutritional health beforehand.
Dr. Victor Romano is an orthopedic surgeon in Oak Park, IL., and the author of Finding The Source: Maximizing Your Results—With and Without Orthopaedic Surgery. He is board-certified in orthopedics and sports medicine with more than 25 years of experience in the field. He graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame and completed medical school at the University of Loyola-Chicago.