Jul 28

Arthritis Strategies

by Dillon Kato

Arthritis is one of the side effects of getting older, but a Montana doctor says there are simple steps to be taken that can reduce the effects of arthritis or help improve the lives of those people with joint pain and stiffness.

Dr. Irene Lohkamp, a family medicine doctor with 25 years of experience at Billings Clinic who also specializes in geriatrics, said some level of arthritis is unavoidable as people age. More than 50 percent of
adults have some arthritis symptoms, with the most common areas being the weight-bearing joints like the knee, hip and back.

“It’s damage to the joint, and just walking on a joint over time is damaging to a joint,” she said. Even so, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent and lessen the effect of arthritis. One of the factors besides age that can cause arthritis is obesity, Lohkamp said. The excess weight a person is carrying around causes excess wear and tear on their joints.

Where once the common arthritis issues were in people like farmers and ranchers who had spent much of their lives lifting heavy weights and doing very physical work, now many of the people the doctor sees with arthritis pain also have problems with their own weight, putting more strain on joints during their everyday lives. While many patients tire of hearing it, Lohkamp said one of the best ways to prevent serious arthritis problems is as simple as diet and exercise.

“If folks are overweight, even 15 pounds can make a noticeable difference in how your knees feel,” she said. While arthritis pain might affect people to a greater or lesser degree, Lohkamp said the problem is when it begins to diminish a person’s functionality.

That’s usually the stage when someone seeks a doctor’s help. Being responsive to the problem earlier on could help people adjust their lifestyle to have less pain down the road, Lohkamp said.

“People don’t think of arthritis as being serious, like a heart attack or a stroke. They just think of it as an ache and a pain,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call arthritis the leading cause of disability in America. It can also further complicate other health issues a person is facing.

“For example, if you have arthritis so bad you aren’t walking, it can complicate diabetes and heart disease,” Lohkamp said.

When a person comes into her office with arthritis pain, she said one of the common routes is to send them to physical therapy. There, therapists do a full evaluation of the person’s joints, then teach them about what exercises are helpful for them, and set them up with an exercise regime. Lohkamp said most insurance coverage can pay for therapy for arthritis pain. When a person’s joints hurt, their instinct is to try not to move them as much. This is the wrong approach, Lohkamp said. By strengthening the muscles around a joint, it will take more pressure away and reduce the pain.

Another thing therapists will do is recommend a cane. Especially with knee pain, a well-fitted cane being used correctly can take a lot of weight off of the joint.

“But you would be surprised at how negatively some people respond to being talked to about using a cane,” Lohkamp said.

Many people with mild arthritis pain use over-the-counter medications to help them. Lohkamp recommended topical creams, many of them capsaicin-based, that can be used on the joints without much fat and muscle around them, like the hands or sometimes the knee. This can be used in conjunction with common acetaminophen-based pain medication, Lohkamp said.

Surgery solutions to arthritis are reserved for people who have, as Lohkamp put it, “bone on bone.” Ultimately, that solution requires that the damaged joint is taken out and completely replaced. As always, Lohkamp said, people should consult with their primary care physicians on what their different treatment options are. Except in more serious cases like rheumatoid arthritis, where inflammation is destroying a joint and a specialist is required, most arthritis help can be done with a family doctor.

Most importantly, Lohkamp stressed that people do what they can now, including remaining active and trying to avoid excessive weight or trauma to the joint, to lower the problems with arthritis pain as they age.

Dillon Kato is a Missoulian reporter. He can be reached by email at dillon.kato@missoulian.com.

No comments yet.

Add a comment