Arthritis: Prevention, management & exciting new treatments

You know that slight pain you feel in your knee, or your hips or your hands? There’s a good chance
that’s arthritis.

Called osteoarthritis by physicians, it’s a disease that affects nearly 5 million Canadians, and with a new diagnosis every 60 seconds, those numbers are increasing. In fact, it’s estimated that one in four Canadians will have osteoarthritis by 2035.

So, what can you do to help prevent getting arthritis in the first place? And if you do get it, what can you do to manage it?

There are a few new treatment options available, but let’s start by looking at what arthritis is.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a term used to describe a group of more than 100 diseases characterized by inflammation in the joints – the most common of which is known as osteoarthritis. Previously known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, the pain of osteoarthritis emanates from the joint as it’s worn down over time.

In particular, the effects of gravity, weight, repetitive minor trauma from running or jumping, and our own genetics are all factors that slowly wear away the cartilage that lines the joint.

As cracks develop in the joint cartilage, the bone beneath the cartilage becomes increasingly exposed. The pain and swelling that we feel is the result of friction between the two ends of bone rubbing together. In its most severe form, end-stage arthritis is commonly characterized as bone-on-bone friction that can be extremely painful, with the only remedy being a joint replacement.

What can you do to prevent arthritis?

While there’s nothing we can do to completely eliminate the risk of developing osteoarthritis, certain lifestyle choices will help to reduce its likelihood, slow its course and manage symptoms.

One of the biggest risk factors of osteoarthritis is excess weight. Extra pounds put extra stress on joints, and this can speed up the deterioration of joint cartilage. Losing weight also helps reduce pain and improve symptoms for those who have already developed arthritis.

Low-impact exercise is an excellent way to improve joint health. Activities such as strength training, stretching and swimming can help prevent or slow down osteoarthritis.

Many cases of osteoarthritis are also brought on by occupational risks. Jobs that involve repetitive motion, such as kneeling or lifting, can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis. If this is the case for you, be sure to get lots of rest, avoid overusing your joints, and speak to your Copeman Healthcare clinicians about how to reduce your risk.

Exciting new treatments for arthritis

Thankfully, arthritis doesn’t have the same debilitating effect you may have seen in years gone by with your grandparents or parents.

Classically, anti-inflammatory medication in the form of pills or gels applied directly to a joint have been the mainstay of treatment. A cortisone injection into the joint was reserved for more painful cases of arthritis.

While both those treatment options still have an important role to play in certain cases, neither focuses on preserving or decreasing the wear-and-tear on the joint. In fact, recent studies have shown that repetitive injections of cortisone actually erode cartilage, despite its anti-inflammatory effect.

Today, therapies have evolved past simply taking pills to decrease inflammation. However, early evaluation by skilled clinicians is still key to combating the many factors in arthritis.

Modern treatments involve a holistic, team-based approach, including physician, kinesiologist and physiotherapist, which focuses on the underlying causes of the disability and strategies for joint preservation.

HYALURONIC ACID INJECTIONS are examples of treatments that may have some joint-preserving power. These injections are jelly-like substances that mimic the fluid already in our joints and act as a sort-of lubricant allowing for better range of motion and a decrease in pain – kind-of like putting WD-40 on a rusty hinge. One or two relatively painless yearly injections can produce excellent results for those with mild to moderate arthritis.

PLATELET RICH PLASMA (PRP) THERAPY is a more novel and cutting-edge arthritis treatment. PRP is an all-natural therapy that has gained an immense amount of interest in recent years as the techniques of using this therapy have improved. It first attracted attention when Tiger Woods used it to improve his knee joints and tennis elbow about 15 years ago.

PRP therapy involves harnessing the healing power of your own blood by concentrating platelets and growth factors into a syringe and then injecting it back into the body. This has been shown to help heal and rejuvenate the tissue that is exposed to the plasma concentration. In the case of arthritis, PRP affects the joint cartilage that is being eroded.

Although used throughout the United States and by professional sports programs extensively, PRP has been used minimally in Canada. Research continues to build for this exciting therapy that’s now showing good evidence for more widespread use. We have begun to offer this therapy at the Copeman Healthcare Centre in Calgary, with plans to expand to other centres.

To be most effective, the options discussed should be employed earlier, when arthritis of the joint is of mild to moderate severity. Waiting too long to treat your arthritis may result in treatment methods not having any effect due to the overwhelming cartilage erosion and pain generated when bone contacts bone.

If you’re feeling pain in your joints, seek the advice of a well-versed healthcare provider who can discuss which options are right for you.