Easing Arthritis Pain

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Nine months ago, I lost a significant amount of weight after being told doing so should help with pain from osteoarthritis. I now have a healthy body mass index, but my joints still hurt. What else can I do to lessen my symptoms?

By losing weight, you’ve decreased the risk that your arthritis symptoms will worsen. Unfortunately, weight loss doesn’t reverse the effects of osteoarthritis on your joints. Along with maintaining your weight loss, exercising regularly, taking medication and participating in physical therapy can all help you manage arthritis pain.

Osteoarthritis is sometimes called wear-and-tear arthritis because it often develops over time as the cartilage within joints breaks down. Other common symptoms of arthritis, in addition to pain and loss of flexibility, include joint stiffness, redness and swelling.

Being overweight or obese significantly raises the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the hips, knees and spine. Losing weight decreases stress on the joints making it less likely the cartilage will break down further. Weight loss also may help lessen inflammation, and that can reduce arthritis symptoms. However, weight loss can’t fix the damage that’s already been done to cartilage. Once cartilage begins to break down, that process cannot be reversed.

So, although weight loss is an excellent step in helping to manage arthritis symptoms, it typically needs to be coupled with other therapies.

Physical therapy, in particular, can be useful for easing arthritis symptoms. A physical therapist can work with you to create an exercise program that strengthens the muscles around your joints, increases your range of motion and reduces pain. Regular, gentle exercise that you do on your own, such as biking, swimming or walking, can also help.

Some people find that movement therapies, such as yoga and tai chi, help ease osteoarthritis pain and increase range of motion. These therapies involve gentle exercises and stretches combined with deep breathing.

You also may need medication to control arthritis symptoms. Nonprescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, usually can help ease pain. Prescription drugs, including stronger nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, also can reduce inflammation.

In addition, if you smoke, quit. Smoking is related to accelerated damage of connective tissues and developing arthritis and pain from arthritis.

Talk with your health care provider about creating a treatment plan to help you deal with arthritis. With your weight loss, you’ve already tackled one of the more difficult parts of controlling this disease. Working with your provider, you can find ways to reduce your symptoms and control your osteoarthritis now and in the long run.

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