Each month, local health care professionals answer your questions. Dr. Matthew Schoeck of Mercy Health Physician Partners North Ottawa Internal Medicine answers your questions about arthritis.
Q: Is there more than one kind of arthritis?
Schoeck: Yes, there are three kinds. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes breakdown in the joint structure. Inflammatory arthritis is a response to something in the body that is attacking the joint. These are both chronic (long-term) forms of arthritis. A third type, reactive arthritis, is typically a short-term response to an illness such as an infection.
Q: Do you treat them all the same?
Schoeck: No, the treatments are quite different. Osteoarthritis cannot be cured. Treatment can only help minimize the symptoms. The best treatment is physical therapy that strengthens the muscles and improves movement around the joint. Anti-inflammatories can also be used to help control pain. Treatment for inflammatory arthritis depends on the specific type. For example, gout is treated through diet modifications and medications. Rheumatoid arthritis is mostly treated with medication. And since reactive arthritis is a temporary condition, it typically resolves on its own without treatment.
It is important to note that opioids are not effective or recommended for treating arthritis. They do not address the underlying cause with joint pain, and they are certainly not healthy for long-term use in cases of chronic arthritis.
Q: Does weather affect arthritis?
Schoeck: Joints are found in relatively closed cavities. Changes in barometric pressure can often be felt in the joint and cause a sensation of pain. They do not make the arthritis worse, but they can temporarily make the symptoms more painful.
Q: What can I do to minimize the impacts of arthritis?
Schoeck: Two of the best things you can do are to manage your weight and stay active. Extra weight puts additional pressure on the joints, making them work even harder. Exercise helps keep your joints as limber as possible, and also helps the muscles move more freely. Note that excessive, repetitive activity will make osteoarthritis worse, so moderation is important. Talk with your doctor about the most appropriate forms of exercise for your condition.
Q: Can you recommend any over-the-counter arthritis treatments?
Schoeck: Tylenol is the best choice for arthritis pain. You can also use ibuprofen for occasional flare-ups. Remember that ibuprofen can cause damage to the digestive system and you should ask your doctor if you plan to use it long term. Supplements such as fish oil, glucosamine and chondroitin have also been shown to have some benefit for arthritis.
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