Don’t Live With Your Chronic Joint Pain

Many options are available to you for joint pain relief
man in 50s with ice pack on shoulder

With the baby boomers now in their 50s and 60s, the number of people with chronic joint pain is growing. About 43 million people have sought out medical advice for the condition — and women account for 58% (25 million) of these patients. It is likely that 23 million more have not been diagnosed.

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The truth is that it’s part of the normal aging process for our joints to wear. Cartilage grows until about age 25, then slowly wears over the rest of our lives. The rate of deterioration depends on factors like trauma (tears/breaks), wear and tear, genetics and weight.

Taking the first step

So, what can you do if you experience chronic joint pain? The first step is to try some of the many non-operative options. These include:

  • Weight reduction.
  • Exercise.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Elastic sleeves or braces.
  • Medications (which may have side effects). These include aspirin and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil® or Motrin®), acetaminophen, (Tylenol®) a mild pain reliever but not anti-inflammatory,and prescription medications.

In-the-joint relief

 Other non-operative options to discuss with your doctor include injections directly into the joint area:

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  • Intra-articular (in the joint) cortisone shots. These are done by specialists in orthopaedics, sports medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, radiology or pain management and provide temporary relief (one week to six months).
  • Viscosupplementation injections (a newer injection of a thick fluid specifically used for the knee joint). These lubricate and protect the joint and work for 75% of patients, offering relief for three months to one year.

Natural remedies and supplements

In addition, some people try natural remedies, like glucosamine and chondroitin and shark cartilage. Although not proven effective, they are not harmful — and about one-third of people say they feel better when taking them. These supplements are not FDA-controlled and the active ingredients vary.

What next?

If these options don’t help, arthroscopic surgery to smooth off the cartilage on the surface of the bone, remove loose chips of cartilage or repair torn cartilage (meniscus) may provide relief.

And, when nothing else is working, it may be time to ask about knee or hip replacement. It is estimated that more than a million knee and hip replacements will be performed in the United States in 2013. Every patient is different. You should consult an orthopaedic surgeon to see if you are a candidate for this surgery.  

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After surgery, most patients say that they wish they had done it long ago. In fact, joint replacement works great for 90% of patients.

Recovery after a knee or hip replacement is fairly fast. Patients are usually weight bearing by the day after surgery and go home to rehabilitate by the third day. Six to eight weeks after surgery, most patients are walking without a cane and anxious to get back to normal activities — walking, golfing, biking, swimming and playing with their children or grandchildren. And today, most people who have joint replacements can expect them to last 20 years or more.

Robert Nickodem, MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon whose specialty interests include hip and knee replacement, knee arthroscopy and general orthopaedics. 

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