Best Treatments for Achy Joints
There’s nothing more inconvenient than getting a sudden shooting pain in your knee when you’re walking from your car to the office. The same could also be said about a dull pain in your hip that refuses to go away. Whatever the issue, joint pain that’s left untreated can potentially inhibit your quality of life and prevent you from doing the things that you love.
While joint pain occurs for a variety of reasons, the most common cause is osteoarthritis, which occurs after simple wear and tear that leads to a loss of cartilage.
“The most common patients we see are patients who’ve worn their joints over time,” said Dr. Andrew Star, an orthopedic surgeon at Abington Memorial Hospital. “We might have someone who played football throughout high school, or a person who was a carpenter his entire life, and is now starting to feel pain at age 54.”
About one-third of American adults report having joint pain, with the knees, shoulders, back, ankles and hips, being the most common achy areas. While pain can range from mild to completely debilitating, it can go away after a few days or last for a long period of time.
For those suffering from early symptoms of joint pain, they can try to self-treat their achy joints. “Certainly a lot of people take a hot shower or use a heating pad in the morning to help get their day going and reduce stiffness in joints,” said Dr. Star. They also might take anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, or even wear a brace on the joint, which can be purchased from a pharmacy or sporting goods store.
In the early stages of joint pain, Dr. Star recommends the RICE treatment, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. By resting the inflamed joint and reducing swelling in this way, patients can help prevent a serious injury and still have the opportunity to gradually return to the activity.
But as their condition worsens with age and they become less mobile, they may need to see a doctor for additional help.
Doctors can use injectable anti-inflammatories, such as cortisone injections, prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medication, or even remove fluid that has built up in a swollen joint, such as the ankle or knee. They can also prescribe custom braces that are more injury specific; if there’s a weak ligament on one side of the joint, a brace that has hinges to support the weakened area might be recommended.
Additionally, physical therapists can use certain modalities that are different from the ones you might do at home to help strengthen your muscles and avoid injuries. They also might perform electrical stimulation to reduce inflammation or use an ultrasound to heat tissue deep in the joint.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do
But the most important thing patients can do?
Stick to what you learn from doctors and physical therapists.
“Patients need to take charge of their own health by following what their doctors recommend, whether it’s watching their weight or continuing learned physical therapy techniques,” said Dr. Star. “It’s going to help them in so many ways, not just as far as their joints and bones are concerned, but also their overall health. It’ll help them live longer and have more productive lives.”