September is Pain Awareness month in the United States and has special significance for the estimated 32.5 million adult Americans who suffer from painful osteoarthritis.[i]
Sometimes also referred to as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the cushioning cartilage that lines the body’s joints breaks down. As it worsens, it can ultimately damage the bones of the joint as well.
Although it often impacts the knees, hips and hands, the pain, stiffness and decreased flexibility caused by osteoarthritis can occur in any of the body’s joints, from the neck and shoulders to the ankles and toes.
Is Osteoarthritis Inevitable?
Although it is true that osteoarthritis develops from wear and tear on the joints as we age, there are other factors that increase the chance of developing the condition. These include:
- Injury to a joint, perhaps from an accident or fall.
- Repetitive stress on a joint, often as the result of sports or work-related motions.
- Women are more likely to develop OA than men, especially after age 50.
- Extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.
- Osteoarthritis often runs in families due to genetic factors.
Although the body’s joints may inevitably get a little “creaky” with age, there are ways to delay and lessen the impact of arthritis.
- Joint-friendly physical activities such as walking, swimming or biking help keep the joints lubricated which improves arthritis pain and function. Exercise also reduces the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes.
- Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the joints to reduce pain and stiffness, while also improving the joint’s range of motion.
- Lose weight to alleviate extra pressure on the joints and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Motrin or Aleve may help address the inflammation and pain associated with early stage osteoarthritis.
Advanced Treatments for Osteoarthritis
For patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis, more medical intervention may be required. A pain management specialist can offer a number of treatments that provide long-term pain relief, including:
- Cervical and Lumbar Epidural Injections provide a targeted delivery of pain-relieving anti-inflammatory steroids to irritated nerves in the neck (cervical) and lumbar (lower back) regions where arthritis has led to compression and narrowing of the spinal column.
- Vertiflex can treat spinal stenosis caused by arthritis by implanting an H-shaped spacer between compressed vertebrae to reduce pain and relieve pressure on nearby nerves.
- Facet Joint Injections can effectively relieve lower back pain caused by the breakdown or inflammation of cartilage inside the facet joints in the sacroiliac and gluteal regions of the spine.
- Nerve Blocks are injections of local anesthetic and anti-inflammatory steroids directly to the area of an irritated nerve cluster. They can be used to relieve pain in the shoulders, elbows and other joints.
- LinQ™ Sacroiliac Joint Fusion can help patients with degenerative changes in the SI joint (where the lower spine and pelvic connect) by fusing and stabilizing the joint to eliminate pain-causing inflammation and irritation.
These interventions are all minimally-invasive, meaning they can be performed on an outpatient basis without the need for major surgery, hospitalization or lengthy rehab. They should be performed by a board certified pain medicine specialist who is experienced in using fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance to deliver the pain-relieving treatment precisely to the affected area for optimum outcomes.
Dr. Ioannis Skaribas is fellowship-trained and double board certified in Pain Medicine and Anesthesiology. He has been performing minimally invasive treatments to address chronic pain for more than 25 years. He is nationally recognized for his expertise in employing the latest advanced treatments such as Vertiflex and LinQ™ to help his patients with complex chronic pain.