First line treatments for degenerative joint disease are weight loss and exercise. If you are overweight this places additional stress on weight bearing joints such as your knees and hips. These are the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis and losing even 10 or 20 pounds can help to relieve joint pain.
The "CORRECT" Exercises
Finding the correct exercise program can sometimes be difficult. You will want to find exercises that put your painful joints through a full range of motion without making the pain worse.
You need to avoid any type of pounding type activities that place an excessive force on the joint and make your joint pain worse.
Low Impact Exercises
Low impact exercises such as cycling and pool exercises strengthen the muscles, improve your cardiovascular fitness, and stimulate your joints to create more of the joint fluid that lubricates your joints.
Exercises that raise your heart rate will also stimulate the release of endorphins.
These are the magic little hormones that hit the same receptors as morphine. They are your body's natural pain killers.
Be Careful to not Make Things Worse
If the exercise makes your pain worse you need to stop and reconsider your program.
You certainly don't want to be doing anything that causes more damage.
This upper picture shows the narrow joint space and bone spurs of osteoarthritis.
The lower picture is a normal shoulder.
Image thanks to Hellerhoff via Wikimedia Commons
Try Something Different
The goal is to put each joint through a full range of motion. Try different positions, maybe sitting or lying down with no weight on the joint.
Talk with a physical therapist. They have some very clever tools and ways to exercise that can help you move without making your pain and osteoarthritis worse.
First line medications for degenerative joint disease are the anti-inflammatories like naproxen, ibuprofen, and diclofenac.
You should always talk your doctor who knows your health history before starting any new medications. Anti-inflammatories can affect your stomach, liver and kidneys.
Narcotic Pain Medications for Arthritis
Narcotics like hydrocodone and oxycodone are not always the best medication for joint pain relief because they do not do anything to fix the problem.
However, they are often used especially for severe symptoms when other medications have not been helpful.
There are two different types of injections that are most commonly used for degenerative joint disease. Neither type of injection will really fix the arthritis but they can be very helpful in some situations.
Steroid medications like triamcinolone and dexamethasone can provide relief by reducing inflammation and swelling. Unfortunately, when the cartilage is worn and joint damage is severe, your pain may return within a few weeks.
Each of your joints is contained in its own compartment that contains joint fluid which lubricates the joint allowing it to slide smoothly.
When you have degenerative joint disease this fluid becomes thin and watery, and it doesn't lubricate the joint very well. Hyaluronic acid injected into the joint can supplement your natural fluid making it more thick and slippery. These injections should theoretically work for many different types of joints but they have only been studied and approved for use in knees.
Arthroscopic surgery can be used to treat painful joints and provide some relief. Your surgeon will make two or three small incisions and use a small camera and specialized tools to remove or repair damaged cartilage.
This is a common procedure for large joints such as knees and hips, but as technology improves we are becoming able to perform arthroscopic procedures on smaller joints such as elbows, ankles and wrists.
Joint Replacement Surgery
Joint replacement surgery can be effective for relieving pain and improving your lifestyle. However, there may still be limitations in what you can do.
You may not be able to run or jog back but most people are able to walk and return to a normal lifestyle. Every case is different and you should talk to your surgeon about what you can expect after surgery.
Risks of Surgery
You should also discuss the risks of surgery with your doctor and with your surgeon. Your risks of surgery will depend on your medical history and any other medical conditions you may have.
Anytime you have surgery there is always a risk of bleeding, damage to nerves, an infection. However, when your surgery is performed in a modern facility by people who are trained in such procedures the risk is really very low.
Treatments are Available
Osteoarthritis can cause severe pain in any of your joints. Joint pain is often sharp and stabbing.
It can make it difficult for you to live your life and do the things that you want to do.
Nothing is likely to make your pain go away completely. However, there are things that can be done. Talk to your doctor today.