Too much weekend football, years of running or just plain old wear and tear—joint pain can come from a variety of sources. According to William Abraham, MD, orthopedic surgeon with Tri Rivers Musculoskeletal Centers, osteoarthritis is the most common type of joint pain and is known as the “wear and tear” pain.
“This occurs when cartilage that usually cushions and protects the ends of your bones has gradually worn away, leading to the pain and stiffness we refer to as arthritis,” he said.
Before exploring remedies, there are things that one can do to prevent injury and pain. Dr. Abraham suggests maintaining an ideal weight; following a regular exercise plan that strengthens the muscles that act as shock absorbers to protect the joints; avoiding overuse of damaged joints by concentrating on low-impact activities and exercises; and leading a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, not smoking, and getting good sleep.
“I tell my patients common sense has a lot to do with it,” said Dr. Abraham, “If you participate in an exercise program you enjoy, you are more likely to stick with it than if it’s drudgery.”
There are times that treatment will be the best course of action. Dr. Abraham suggests three phases.
“Phase 1 is, again, common sense: doing those things you can do without involving a physician,” he said. These include losing weight if necessary, taking over-the-counter medications, using topicals for the pain, and of course, avoiding activities that cause pain.
Phase 2 begins when you have exhausted home remedies, and you need to visit an orthopedic surgeon. “We can offer alternative medications, steroid injections and physical therapy to help ease your pain and improve your range of motion,” said Dr. Abraham.
Phase 3 is surgery, which is generally the last resort when conservative options no longer help.
“The timing and how you progress through these phases is completely up to you, because you can’t do more damage by waiting,” said Dr. Abraham. “You’re in charge.”
Knowing when and if to consult with a physician is a personal decision. For some it might be years, for some a matter of months and some can manage their pain completely without medical assistance.
“Basically, you’ll know when it’s time to call us because what you’re doing isn’t working anymore,” said Dr. Abraham, adding that people should consult a doctor when the pain becomes too much to manage, when pain disrupts sleep or when activities of daily life are limited by pain or range of motion.
Regardless of the course of action, the decision is yours.
“You are your own best advocate and can make the best decisions on your own behalf,” said Dr. Abraham. “You will know when the pain and frustration become too much at any point throughout the process, and you are ready to take the next step.”