What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is also called degenerative joint disease. It is seen especially in older people after many years of “wear and tear” on the joints. It’s estimated that about 80% of people over the age of 65 have some degree of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects cartilage, the hard, slippery tissue covering the ends of bones where they meet to form a joint. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another and provides a cushion in the joints during movement. In osteoarthritis, the surface layer of cartilage wears away, allowing bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing pain, swelling and decreased joint function. The most common joints affected are the knees, hips, spine, and hands.
How is Osteoarthritis Treated?
- NSAIDs: Anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen (Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve) are commonly used. These medications can be effective at treating pain, but they do not improve the underlying condition. Also, they have potential side effects that include irritation and bleeding of the stomach that can lead to painful ulcerations, kidney damage, and increased risk of cardiovascular incidents such as blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.
- Pain medications: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Tramadol may be used. and synthetic opioid that may be prescribed when over-the-counter medications don’t provide sufficient relief. It works through the central nervous system to achieve its effects. Tramadol carries risks that don’t exist with acetaminophen and NSAIDs, including the potential for addiction.
- Hyaluronic acid injections: These are administered into the joint to increase lubrication and decrease pain. These are primarily used for osteoarthritis of the knee. The injections are typically done weekly for 3 to 5 weeks, and it typically takes about 5 weeks to notice improvement. Not everyone has a positive response, but those who do can have some pain relief for 3 months and up to a maximum of 2 years.
- Joint replacement: This is reserved as a last resort if the joint’s pain and dysfunction are severe and haven’t responded to less invasive treatments.
Fortunately, naturopathic medicine has a variety of effective treatments for osteoarthritis. Not only do you not have to suffer from the potential side effects of taking pain medications or undergoing surgery, but there are safe, natural treatments that promote healing in addition to decreasing pain.
1) Acupuncture: Studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis. A retrospective study reviewed 10 different studies using acupuncture as a treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee. The conclusion was positive, concluding that acupuncture is an effective treatment option for osteoarthritis of the knee. According to Chinese Medicine theory, acupuncture helps to remove blocks that impede the flow of Qi (Chi) and can decrease pain and stiffness and improve joint function. When Acupuncture needles are inserted, nerve fibers are triggered, and cells are stimulated to release endorphins, which provide local inhibition of the incoming pain signal. They also trigger serotonin and norepinephrine release, neurotransmitters that suppress the transmission of the pain impulse, and have an antidepressant effect in the brain. It also activates ACTH release from the pituitary gland, which activates the adrenal gland to release cortisol, a naturally occurring steroid that has is anti-inflammatory. The result of these three areas being stimulated is an inhibition of the incoming pain sensation locally, a general, morphine-like, pain-relieving effect throughout the body, an anti-inflammatory effect, and a general sense of improved well-being. Acupuncture needles also stimulate increased circulation to the area being treated, which promotes healing.
2) Zeel: These are homeopathic injections that help to decrease inflammation and improve joint function. They can be used as an intramuscular injection that reduces inflammation in the entire body and/or as Biopuncture, superficial injections around the affected joint to achieve a more targeted local effect. Zeel can also be taken as an oral, sublingual tablet.
3) Glucosamine + Chondroitin: These help to rebuild the cartilage in the joint. This supplement needs to be used at a therapeutic dose daily for at least three months to receive the full benefit when treating osteoarthritis. Your naturopathic physician can help to guide you with the appropriate dosage.
4) Turmeric (Curcumin) and Fish oil: These are anti-inflammatory and can help decrease osteoarthritis pain.
5) Exercise and weight loss: Generally, exercise helps to strengthen the muscles and other structures surrounding the joint. An exercise plan should be formulated and supervised by your physician and tailored individually according to your specific needs. Weight loss alleviates extra strain on the joints and can help decrease pain and improve the joints’ function.
- Flavonoid-rich berries protect against cellular damage in the joints.
- Sulfur-containing garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, and cabbage help strengthen cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
- Ginger and turmeric are anti-inflammatory and help to decrease pain.
- Avoid nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers). These contain naturally occurring pesticides that can trigger inflammation in genetically susceptible people.
If you are suffering with osteoarthritis or suspect you might have it, please ask one of the doctors at Living Wellness Medical Center for assistance. We are here to address your health concerns and initiate your path toward healing. Call 480-588-6856 to schedule a free brief meet and greet with one of our doctors.