Our last post, ARE YOU AT RISK FOR OSTEOARTHRITIS? focused on the "before" aspect of a diagnosis, and what risk factors increase your chances for a diagnosis. DIAGNOSED WITH OSTEOARTHRITIS is going to focus on the "after" aspect - what to do after you've been diagnosed.
1. First and foremost: do not self diagnose.
See your primary care physician, or an orthopaedic specialist. A series of tests and health history questions will allow most medical practitioners to be positive about an osteoarthritis diagnosis, but for physical proof, you'll need either an X-ray or an MRI.
Why an X-ray? More advanced cases of osteoarthritis will be visible in an X-ray. Severe cartilage degeneration will be visible (or more realistically, will be nonexistent) by recognizing what's out of place in comparison to where they're anatomically in place. Joints that are suffering from osteoarthritis will look noticeably different in an X-ray compared to that of a healthy joint.
2. Talk to your doctor about your options.
Depending on the severity of your case, your doctor may present you with a multitude of paths to assess, or potentially just a fair few.
Non-surgical opportunities include but are not limited to: steroid injections to lessen inflammation and reduce pain, physical therapy to strengthen muscles and therefore lighten the load on the joint, or pain medications to allow you to continue functioning with minimal pain.
Surgical opportunities, or joint replacements, are extremely common. Depending on age or the severity of your case, you may be a prime candidate for a partial or total joint replacement. This will require physical therapy to aide your body in returning to full range of motion and strength, but most cases are completely successful and will allow you to return to the lifestyle you enjoy with less pain than in you have had in probably 5 or more years.
3. In the meantime: less is not more.
While it may feel as though movement is going to aggravate and inflame that joint, lack of movement is consequentially worse. The lack of movement weakens the muscles, and therefore, adding more pressure on the joint when it's loaded. Lack of movement will essentially make it significantly more painful to move - and therefore, making the condition feel much worse. Movement, as well as strengthening, is key to maintaining a quality of life until the correct treatment option for you can be identified and agreed upon.
4. Ice, and Anti-inflammatories
Icing the joints can lead to some stiffness, but it can also decrease the activity of inflammatory responses that lead to increased swelling from bone-on-bone activity and therefore, decreases the residual pain. Not only does it limit the inflammatory response by constricting the blood flow into that joint, but also allows you to feel relief temporarily until the numbness from the cold entirely wears off. An anti-inflammatory can help aide in minimizing your inflammatory (immune) response, but be sure to talk with your doctor about which anti-inflammatory works best for you and your specific medication protocol.