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 In Arthritis & Rheumatology, Ask an Expert, Pulse Blog

Q: What can doctors do for osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a non-inflammatory form of arthritis most commonly caused by aging. Joint injuries and overuse can also contribute to patients developing the condition. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the end of a person’s bones wears down, causing joint pain and stiffness.

Rheumatologists are experts at distinguishing osteoarthritis from other forms of arthritis and creating a treatment plan to relieve pain and slow disease progression. One of the most effective strategies we recommend is to stay active and maintain muscle strength. When the muscles around affected joints are strong, joints are more stable, more flexible, and less painful.

As activity can sometimes worsen pain, rheumatologists may refer patients to Physical Therapy for help with developing an exercise and strengthening program. Weight loss can also be helpful for some people in alleviating pain and slowing arthritis progression.

Pain relievers are another option for managing the disease and allowing people to continue the activities they enjoy. In general, it’s best to minimize the use of potentially addicting medications and choose oral or topical anti-inflammatories, cortisone injections, and medications such as duloxetine and gabapentin instead. A doctor can review the use of any over-the-counter pain relievers and dietary supplements.

When these measures no longer adequately control symptoms, we can provide referrals to our Pain Medicine and Orthopedics departments. Radiofrequency ablation is an exciting therapy that has been used to alleviate pain from spine arthritis and is now being performed for some individuals with knee arthritis. A joint replacement can provide long-term pain relief when other measures are no longer effective.

—Theresa Karplus, MD

Theresa Karplus is a rheumatologist at Vancouver Clinic. She wants patients to feel heard and hopeful, and to know that they have a partner who is committed to helping them feel better.