A few months after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear in my left knee, I stared at my swollen leg during the dreaded pronouncement from the orthopedic surgeon. He said the only thing that might work at that point was a total knee replacement. However, due other medical problems I had, he wouldn’t recommend it. Once I learned that I had severe osteoarthritis in both knees, not just one, I began to investigate lifestyle and home remedies to help with the pain and inflammation.
Overview of Osteoarthritis
According to MedlinePlus, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It breaks down cartilage in the joints. Over an extended period of time, the illness causes bones to rub together, causing pain and inflammation.
Doctors also refer to osteoarthritis as degenerative joint disease and osteoarthrosis. The most common causes are aging, injuring a joint, and being obese or overweight. The Mayo Clinic states that while osteoarthritis can affect any joint, it most often strikes joints in the hands, hips, knees, neck, and/or lower back.
Traditional treatments include over-the-counter and prescription drugs, physical therapy, and surgery. Patients who get little relief with these options sometimes report success with complementary or alternative medicine therapies like acupuncture, nutritional supplements, tai chi, and yoga.
In addition, certain lifestyle and home remedies can be beneficial to some individuals suffering from osteoarthritis. The top six include:
Rest. Resting a limb for 12 to 24 hours can reduce the amount of pain and inflammation. Avoiding activities requiring repetitive motions of the joint means less wear and tear. A break of around 10 minutes every hour often helps.
Weight loss. Excess pounds mean excess burdens on weight-bearing joints like hips and knees. A modest weight loss can reduce discomfort. It’s important to seek a doctor’s advice, however, before starting on a weight loss regimen, especially when combining it with increased physical activity.
Assistive devices. The most obvious is a cane. However, anything that takes weight off a knee or a hip while moving is helpful. For patients with osteoarthritis in their hands, tools that grip and grab help maintain daily kitchen routines. Doctors and occupational therapists are resources for information on assistive devices. Medical supply stores and catalogs are also very useful.
Exercise. It’s important to get specific instructions from the physician in charge of osteoarthritis treatment as to the right types of exercise, how long each session should be, and how often activity should occur. Gentle exercise like walking, swimming, and biking is usually best. Movement strengthens muscles surrounding affected joints. When a patient experiences new pain lasting more than two hours after physical activity, the exercise has most likely been too rigorous.
Pain creams. They’re sold on an over-the-counter (OTC) basis. Both creams and gels provide short-term relief from the pain of osteoporosis. They work most efficiently on joints located close to the skin’s surface, such as fingers and knees. They create either a warm or cool feeling. Since some contain medications absorbed through the skin, it’s wise to read labels carefully and consult a physician for product recommendations.
Heat and cold. Both heat and cold can cut the amount of pain in a joint affected by osteoarthritis. While some patients experience a benefit from both, others swear by just one or the other. Heat relieves stiffness. Cold has a calming effect on muscle spasms. Any heat applied should be warm and not hot. Using heat several times a day for 20-minute intervals helps some individuals. Those who apply cold packs several times a day often find bags of frozen vegetables like peas the easiest to handle. Patients who have compromised circulation or who experience numbness should avoid cold treatments, however.
It’s important to remember that while there is really no way to reverse the damage caused by osteoarthritis in a joint short of replacing it surgically, many lifestyle and home remedies can dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life.