Osteoarthritis is a chronic pain condition and a pervasive medical problem across the world. It is often referred to as a wear and tear condition that continues to progress throughout a patient’s adult life until they are driven to seek treatment.
Osteoarthritis often presents in knees, fingers, and toes, but most joints are capable of developing osteoarthritis. Patients who suffer from OA can expect to experience chronic pain and inflammation that gets worse over time.
To make things worse, if you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your physician or doctor may have recommended painkillers, steroids, or invasive procedures to ease the pain.
Fortunately, taking pain relievers every day or living in fear of having to undergo surgery are no longer the two alternatives available to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis and improve your joints’ function.
In this guide, you’ll learn what we know – and what we don’t know – about osteoarthritis, and explore the treatment options that can help you magnify your quality of life. Let’s get started.
What We Know About Chronic Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions and a leading cause of disability in the elderly.
In a study conducted in 2021, Dr. Jeffrey Katz and his associates conclude that OA is, “. . . the most common joint disease, affecting an estimated more than 240 million people worldwide, including an estimated more than 32 million in the US. Osteoarthritis is the most frequent reason for activity limitation in adults” (2021).
While patients experience limitations from joint-damaging conditions such as OA, they should not discount that their pain and inability to operate their life normally could also result from multiple other chronic pain conditions.
Dr. Katz explains why patients may confuse OA with other conditions, such as neuropathy when assessing their symptoms by explaining that OA “. . . can involve almost any joint but typically affects the hands, knees, hips, and feet”. Patients should be careful and thorough in the assessment of their pain and understand its origin to properly target it for treatment.
This task is sometimes proven more difficult by the shared pain conditions themselves which, as Dr. Katz states to include, “. . . joint dysfunction, pain, stiffness, functional limitation, and loss of valued activities, such as walking for exercise and dancing”. With so many similarities that create a barrier to self-diagnosis, patients may wonder what the major differences could be.
The overlapping symptoms, as well as the fact that there is no definitive diagnostic test for osteoarthritis, cause people to wait nearly 8 years to receive an accurate diagnosis. At the same time, understanding the nature of your condition is the first step to accepting it and finding an adequate treatment option.
Let’s start by looking at the causes, symptoms, and risk factors for osteoarthritis.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis; an inflammatory disease that affects the joints.
Also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage in the joints starts to break down. The cartilage is a soft, cushioning material located between a joint’s components, and has the role of protecting the bones from friction and shock damage during movement.
In people with osteoarthritis, the loss of cartilage is caused by the high levels of inflammation sustained by an overactive immune system. The high inflammation, coupled with the natural wear and tear of the cartilage that occurs as we age, can cause severe joint damage.
As the cartilage breaks down, the bones are left to rub against each other during movement, which can lead to a wide range of complications. For example, you may compensate for the pain you experience in one side of the joint by overloading another area, which can cause abnormalities and posture problems.
Additionally, if left untreated, osteoarthritis can cause chronic joint pain, inhibited range of motion, and disability.
Although there is no trigger cause of osteoarthritis, some factors can put some individuals at greater risk of developing this condition. Let’s look at the symptoms and risk factors of OA below.
Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis
Most of the symptoms of osteoarthritis are related to the progressive breakdown of the joint’s cartilage.
Most often, OA affects load-bearing joints such as the knee and hips. However, no joint is immune to this disease. For example, statistics by the Arthritis Foundation show that around 50% of women and 25% of men may suffer from hand osteoarthritis to some extent by the time they are 85.
Depending on what joints are affected by OA, you’ll experience the symptoms below around one or more areas of the body.
- Joint pain at the end of the day or after a strenuous activity: One of the main symptoms of OA is chronic joint pain, which affects an estimated 70% of older adults. The pain and discomfort may intensify at the end of the day or after practicing physical activity.
This is because high-impact, strenuous, or repetitive movements add unnecessary pressure to the joints, which are unable to endure such stress due to the loss of cartilage.
- Stiffness at the beginning of the day or after resting: If you have OA, you may notice that your joints feel stiff in the morning or after periods of resting. Such high levels of stiffness only last for around 30 minutes, a period during which the body replenishes some of the lubrication between the joints’ components.
- Limited range of motion that goes away with movement: OA can cause temporary or permanent limited range of motion. In some cases, your ability to move your joints can improve with movement. This happens because, with movement, the muscles become more flexible and the body pumps lubrication into the joints.
However, if the cartilage is severely damaged, the joint’s bones may not be able to move as they should, which can cause permanent mobility issues.
- Clicking or popping sounds in the joint: If you suffer from OA, you may start hearing “popping” or “clicking” noises when walking or moving your joints. This symptom is known as crepitus, and it occurs when the joint’s components are unable to slide smoothly against each other.
- Swelling around the joint and stiffness: Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition. As such, it causes the body to sustain high levels of inflammation for long periods of time. In turn, inflammation can lead to the build-up of fluids around the area of injury, which can cause swelling and stiffness.
- Joint instability or buckling: OA can prevent the joints from moving as they should, and even alter your joints’ mechanics and gait. This translates into posture problems and a sensation of instability in the joints affected by osteoarthritis.
Risk Factors For Osteoarthritis
As we have seen above, there is no single cause that triggers osteoarthritis. However, some factors can put you at greater risk of developing OA. Learning about them is the first step to modifying your lifestyle and reducing the risk of suffering from this degenerative disease.
Here are some critical risk factors for OA and what you can do to reduce the risk:
- Age: Age is a leading risk factor for OA, but it is also an unmodifiable one. During the aging process, the cartilage between the joints becomes less elastic and supple, which makes it more prone to breaking down. The high inflammation levels caused by arthritis speed up this process.
- Genetics: If you have a family history of OA, you may be at greater risk of developing this disease. Although there is more to be understood about the correlation between genetics and osteoarthritis, studies have shown that 40-70% of OA cases have a genetic component.
- Obesity: Obesity is one of the main risk factors for osteoarthritis because the extra weight puts the joints under excessive pressure, which accelerates the loss of cartilage. Overweight individuals are 4-5 times more at risk of developing OA, which makes maintaining a healthy weight essential to prevent osteoarthritis.
- Weak Muscles: Weak muscles and poor conditioning impact how the body weight is distributed and managed during movement. Without the support of strong muscles, the joints may be under excessive stress, which can speed up the breakdown of the cartilage.
Practicing regular physical activity can help you keep your muscles strong, prevent the age-related loss of muscle mass, and lower the risk of OA.
- Overuse: Overusing your joints can speed up the degeneration of the cartilage, especially as you age. Practicing sports that involve high-impact, throwing, jumping, and swinging motions can make you more likely to develop OA in the knees and hips.
Occupational activities that require repetitive hand movements, such as typing on a keyboard, can increase the risk of hand OA. Working with an occupational therapist can help you understand how to practice your favorite activities without increasing the risk of suffering from degenerative diseases of the joints.
- Joint Injuries: Joint injuries, even if healed, can lead to OA. This may be the case if the cartilage between a joint was severely damaged by trauma. You may also develop osteoarthritis if an injury has changed the joint’s mechanics, which can cause areas of the joints to rub against each other and wear down the cartilage during movement.
- Musculoskeletal Abnormalities: Some hereditary and congenital abnormalities may increase the risk of OA. These include abnormal joint mechanics and gait, which expose joints to friction and shock damage areas of the joint that should be unaffected during movement. Being born with thinner or weaker cartilage can also increase the risk of OA.
What Is Not Known About Osteoarthritis
According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019, the prevalence of OA has grown by more than 113% between 1990 and 2019. Additionally, as life expectancy, global population, and rates of obesity continue to rise, OA is expected to remain one of the greatest health concerns worldwide.
The steady growth in the number of cases has contributed to a steady and persistent level of research into a treatment for the condition and this should be a welcome relief for anyone seeking said treatment.
Unfortunately, research from several in the medical community concludes that effective treatment for osteoarthritis is elusive and often lacks the efficacy desired by both patients and their doctors.
While a definitive cure for OA is yet to be found, there are several pain management strategies that you can use to ease the discomfort deriving from osteoarthritis. Below, we’ll look at the surgical and non-surgical alternatives often recommended by physicians.
Treatment Options For Chronic Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of invasive surgical procedures such as knee and hip arthroplasty, or joint replacement surgery.
These procedures are prescribed to patients with advanced osteoarthritis, which has caused a severe loss of cartilage, bone spurs, or changes in the joint’s mechanics. Arthroplasty is an invasive surgical intervention that aims to replace parts of the joint that have been damaged with artificial components, usually made of metal or plastic.
It is important to note that these surgical procedures don’t cure osteoarthritis, nor are they able to stop the future degeneration of cartilage. Additionally, they involve 3-6 months of immobilization and rehabilitation, lead to several days of work lost, and, in some cases, require additional surgical interventions to achieve desired results.
Are There Safe Non-Surgical Treatment Alternatives?
As seen above, surgical interventions may help patients with severe osteoarthritis. But is surgery your only option? Other pain management methods are available, but they are not always effective. And, they are certainly not curative or disease-modifying.
With the need for effective nonsurgical treatment of osteoarthritis being sought by patients, even professionals in the medical community like Professor Brandt are frustrated with the lack of effective options available to their patients.
Professor Brandt, after surveying the available options, their limited benefits, and many side-effects, states that “. . . we surely need better and safer drugs to treat OA symptoms” (2004). The last thing patients of OA want to hear is that the symptoms they are attempting to treat with better and safer drugs are met with sometimes worsening side effects.
Throughout the survey of treatments, Professor Brandt also concludes that some drugs had little to no effect in a clinical trial when compared to the effects of a placebo.
It is perhaps most disconcerting to hear this statement which sums up the entirety of Professor Brandt’s concern: “Despite enormous increases in our understanding of pain mechanisms and of the metabolism, biochemistry, and molecular biology of articular cartilage . . . our track record for the development of more efficacious drug treatment for OA is discouraging”.
This is not to say that treatments do not exist for osteoarthritis; in fact, there are several. The issue, that Professor Brandt brings succinctly to the forefront, is the issue of efficacy.
Some of the most common conservative treatment options for osteoarthritis include the following:
- Weight Loss: If you are overweight or obese, a weight loss journey can help reduce the stress and pressure on the joint. In turn, this may slow down the degeneration of cartilage and reduce inflammation and pain.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity and muscle conditioning can strengthen the musculoskeletal system as a whole, and help ease the load on affected joints.
- Nutraceuticals: Nutraceuticals and supplements, such as chondroitin and glucosamine, are often used to decrease the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.
However, more studies are needed to determine the efficacy of this treatment, and the American College of Rheumatology recommends against the use of these supplements in the treatment of hip, knee, and hand arthritis.
- Pain Medication: Pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and over-the-counter pain relievers are often the first line of treatment for osteoarthritis.
While this treatment may help relieve the pain during flare-ups, taking medications daily cannot be considered a long-term solution. Additionally, pain medications come with severe side effects, including the increased risk of stroke and heart attack, stomach ulcers, and dependency.
- Topical Treatments: Creams and other topical creams that contain capsaicin may help relieve pain. Capsaicin, which is the active compound in chili peppers, has been seen to inhibit the function of a pain transmitter, thus preventing you from feeling pain.
- Steroids: Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used to provide longer-lasting pain relief to people with osteoarthritis. These medications have severe side effects, including high blood pressure, mood swings, and muscle weakness.
- Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP): PRP refers to a treatment that uses the blood’s healing factors – known as platelets – to support the regeneration of the cartilage affected by osteoarthritis.
Is There A Cure In The Horizon?
Patients may feel disheartened and hope for a simple cure that might end OA once and for all. Unfortunately, as is the case for many conditions, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. There are only treatments for the condition that can help manage the pain and improve limb functionality.
Dr. J.L. Whitaker and his associates cooperated with him in a 2021 study that evaluates our understanding of treating OA.
In the article, they state: “Given there is no cure for OA disease, and we only can offer persons who have OA illness modestly effective symptomatic treatments, the concept of prevention is attractive” (2021).
Many patients reading this would not accept that answer and conclude that they would have to go back in time to prevent an incurable condition from ever happening in the first place.
Nonetheless, with the right treatment options, it is possible for patients to improve the functionality of the joints affected by osteoarthritis, while also preventing the disease from progressing. Let’s look at what you can do to prevent and manage OA below.
Is Osteoarthritis Preventable?
Dr. Whitaker continues to explain that, “[t]he field of OA prevention is relatively young. To date, most of what is known about preventing OA and risk factors for OA is relative to the disease of OA, with few studies considering risk factors for the illness of OA”.
While patients assess their risk factors, including age and obesity, they may be able to determine their likelihood of worsening their already diagnosed condition. Patients may protest that age is a risk factor that cannot be mitigated, however, there are risk factors, including weight and diet, that can be addressed to mitigate the worsening of OA.
Dr. Whitaker explains this further and offers another manageable risk factor by concluding that “. . . as our understanding of disease mechanisms grows, it is important to acknowledge that OA may emerge as a heterogeneous disease that culminates in a common illness. Despite these important knowledge gaps, obesity and joint injury have emerged as strong and highly prevalent modifiable risk factors for OA disease and aspects of OA illness.”
How Neurofunctional Pain Management Can Help
While the best way to avoid worsening effects of OA is to mitigate the manageable risk factors, there are other treatment options that can help get patients into a better situation regarding their OA pain and improve joint flexibility.
Neurofunctional Pain Management offers a possible option for osteoarthritis pain relief by first addressing the pain relief with high pulse electrical stimulation, then addressing the health of the patient with specialized hydration therapy to enhance the effect of pain relief.
This combination of therapy creates an enduring pain relief effect and restores health so that patients are motivated and have a more positive outlook on their chronic pain condition, which magnifies their quality of life.
This is the core protocol of Neurofunctional Pain Management. With a new positive outlook on their situation, patients are motivated to act and to take direction for a better state of health and ultimately keep their chronic pain under control.
Neuragenex is pioneering the field of Neurofunctional Pain Management and is creating the core principles that may bring sustained pain relief and restored health to millions of patients across the nation. Osteoarthritis pain is one of these conditions that can be treated with Neurofunctional Pain Management.
The specific protocol of combining high-pulse electrical stimulation simultaneously with hydration therapy is called Neuralgesia and is a proprietary treatment program offered exclusively by Neuragenex. These two treatment protocols work together to produce the enhanced pain relief that can endure for several months after a patient completes a course of treatment.
How Neurofunctional Pain Management Approach Works
As seen above, osteoarthritis is not preventable or curable. But this should not condemn you to live with excruciating pain and limited joint mobility! Thanks to the customizable Neurofunctional Pain Management programs offered at Neuragenex, you can improve your quality of life, regain your joint’s mobility, and ease your pain – without invasive procedures or medications.
Here are some of the main pillars of a Neurofunctional Pain Management plan:
- Electroanalgesia: Electroanalgesia is a pain-relieving technique that employs electrical current pulses. The electrical pulses improve blood and oxygen circulation, trigger the release of endorphins, and inhibit pain signals from reaching the brain This combination of actions may result in long-term pain relief.
- IV Therapy: Ad hoc IV therapies assist patients in combating nutritional deficiencies and dietary imbalances, which may be risk factors for illnesses like osteoarthritis. IV therapies attempt to replenish nutrients and offer long-lasting hydration.
- Lifestyle Counseling: Some lifestyle factors may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. These include performing activities that put the joints under unnecessary stress, being overweight, or living a sedentary or inactive life. A specialized counselor can help you address these lifestyle factors, thus reducing the risk of developing or aggravating OA.
The mission of Neuragenex is to relieve pain, restore health, and magnify the quality of life without drugs, surgery, or invasive procedures. This is the optimal pattern for sustained long-term pain relief from chronic pain conditions.
The first step is to relieve pain so that patients can experience the relief they need to be motivated to take additional steps for their nutritional health and physical movement and exercise.
This immediate pain relief can really help them gain the motivation to get relief and move forward with their lives. Restored health through specialized hydration therapy and nutritional deficiency balancing. In addition to these two protocols, we have an education program that offers lifestyle counseling for ongoing health and wellness activities.
This approach to chronic pain makes our mission statement much stronger to relieve pain, restore health, and magnify the quality of life while operating as a non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical, non-invasive, and non-chiropractic pain management treatment program.
Safely Manage Your Chronic Osteoarthritis Pain
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, taking pain medications daily or living in fear of having to undergo a total knee replacement surgery can have a profound impact on all aspects of your life.
Fortunately, thanks to today’s advances in regenerative medicine, and the whole-person approach of Neuragenex, you can take advantage of a non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical, and non-invasive Neurofunctional Pain Management designed around your unique needs.