The many aches and pains of growing older can range from minor backaches to sore muscles, or they could be something more serious. They could be symptoms of arthritis.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for dozens of forms of joint pain or disease. According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 100 types of arthritis and related conditions afflict more than 50 million adults in the United States. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as we age.
The good news is we are learning more about this challenging disease all the time. “As time has progressed, there is more awareness about arthritis,” says Rainbow Doemel, upstate New York associate director of the Arthritis Foundation. “We’ve brought it to the forefront as a major public health issue.”
”Unlike a sudden injury, arthritis creeps in. The first warning sign is often stiffness. This typically happens after long periods of sitting or when waking up in the morning. If you feel like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz who needs oil in his joints when you get out of bed, that soreness and stiffness may be a symptom of arthritis.
Other symptoms of arthritis include swelling, pain, and decreased range of motion in the joints. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. If they result in chronic pain, it could make everyday activities such as climbing stairs or getting up out of a chair a challenge.
Experts advise seeing your doctor right away if you have symptoms of arthritis. They will do tests such as checking the range of motion in your joints, looking for swelling and tracking when and how long your pain lasts.
Your physician may recommend taking medications that have been shown to diminish pain, swelling, and inflammation. While medications aren’t the only treatment option available for arthritis, they’re often a go-to for managing arthritis pain.
These can include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These include over-the-counter meds such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. NSAIDs are also available by prescription; two common brand names are Celebrex and Vioxx.
- Corticosteroids. These steroid medications work against the body’s immune system to help reduce inflammation and are prescribed for autoimmune arthritis conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Biologic Medications for Arthritis made with organic molecules. These are the newest arthritis medicines out there today. You may have seen some of them, such as Humira, advertised in magazines. These meds are given by injection.
- Topical gels. These gels work by stimulating sensory nerve endings to reduce pain signals in the nervous system.
While these conventional treatments may control inflammation and slow the progression of your arthritis, other therapies can complement these medications. Physical therapy, for instance, is an excellent option for reducing strain and gradually building up strength.
Alyssa Lee, a physical therapist at Thomas Nicolla Physical Therapy in Albany, says many of their patients are seeking relief from arthritis pain. Some of the exercises are done with the help of buoyancy.“Our aquatic therapy pool is a great place to improve range of motion,” Lee says. “Water supports body weight and makes people more mobile. It can make a huge difference.” Physical therapists may also recommend canes, braces, and splints to support joints and shoe inserts to relieve stress on the lower extremities.
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine involving placing thin, small needles painlessly through the skin at specific pressure points on the body. It can stimulate nerves, improve blood flow and activate the body’s natural painkillers. (For more on acupuncture, check out the story from our summer issue here.)
Angela Stritt practices at North Country Acupuncture in Clifton Park. Stritt says she has many patients seeking relief from various types of arthritis, and. the results can be remarkable. “Certainly everyone is different, but I’ve had. patients come in with pain and walk out feeling amazing,” Stritt says. “The question is, how long will it last?” Patients with severe symptoms may need acupuncture treatments two days a week. After that, if the pain is reduced, they see Stritt on an as-needed basis.
Dorothy LaCombe of Clifton Park is the first Nurse Practitioner to open a rheumatology practice in New York State. LaCombe says various supplements can help manage arthritis pain, including glucosamine, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and tart cherry juice. She also talks to her patients about what they’re eating and how much they exercise. “Diet and movement are everything,” LaCombe says. “Watch your intake of sugar, gluten, and dairy.
Reducing stress can also help manage arthritis pain, according to LaCombe.“Exercise, meditate, find a support system,” LaCombe says. “Let’s try to address all your stress-related symptoms.”