With the help of a rheumatologist, you can find many science-backed treatments to ease your pain.
Osteoarthritis affects over 32.5 million adults, according to the CDC. Through simple “wear and tear” as we age, the cartilage that cushions our joints is broken down, creating pain and difficulty moving.
“There are a lot of advertisements out there for products and treatments that supposedly help your hand, hips or knees, but it’s important to follow evidenced based studies on what actually works,” says Dr. Stephanie Dondero, a rheumatologist with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates.
In 2019, the American College of Rheumatology released its most recent recommendations for the treatment of osteoarthritis, with two major takeaways:
- Osteoarthritis treatments are not one-size-fits all; different joints respond to unique types of treatments.
- Exercise is the best overall recommendation for every type of osteoarthritis, and it’s even better if it’s supervised, such as with physical therapy or a group class.
Get Help for Your Sore Hands
Having trouble unscrewing a cap? The issue is likely osteoarthritis of your carpometacarpal or CMC joint at the base of thumb. An easy fix to try first is a neoprene or ridged thumb splint, which immobilizes the thumb and reduces pain, notes Dr. Dondero.
Other research-backed treatment options include:
- Parafin hand wax treatments. Dipping in your hand in this mineral-based warm wax has been shown in studies to be effective at alleviating pain and stiffness. This is available in therapists’ offices as well as at private salons.
- Kinesiotaping. A taping technique (recognizable by the brightly colored tape, often used by athletes) that, unlike orthotics, supports the joint while allowing for an increased range of motion.
- Chondroitin supplements. This dietary supplement found naturally in the body (and part of your natural cartilage) has been shown to reduce breakdown of collagen, has anti-inflammatory properties and may even stimulate cartilage repair mechanisms.
Seek Relief for Painful Hips and Knees
As for treating the lower joints of the body, it’s often a matter of physics. “The force that’s placed on your knees is one and a half times your body weight, so if you are a two hundred pound man, you are putting three hundred pounds of pressure on your knees,” says Dr. Dondero. “This pressure goes up to two to three times if you add an incline, and four to five times when you squat.”
By losing weight, you reduce that force and additional wear and tear, notes Dr. Dondero, referring to research that found obese young adults who lost 10 pounds were able to decrease the risk of osteoarthritis later in life.
Other tactics to try:
- Tibio-fibial and tibio-patellar braces (for knees). These devices help to redistributing weight across the knee to take pressure off areas of worn cartilage.
- Topical capsaicin. Derived from chili peppers, this chemical helps to block local pain signals from traveling to your brain, and applying locally may provide some relief.
- Tai chi. Combining relaxation with slow, gentle, graceful movements and deep diaphragmatic breathing, this dance-like form of martial arts has been shown to improve strength, physical function and balance.
- Radiofrequency ablation. In this non-invasive, topical medical procedure, a specialist uses an electric current produced by a radio wave to heat up a small area of nerve tissue on the surface of the skin. This can decrease the pain signals in that specific area.
If you are suffering from the pain of osteoarthritis and natural remedies are not helping, you have several options. A rheumatologist can help to investigate the source of your pain and find a treatment that is right for you.