Arthritis, a disease that is characterized by the inflammation of joints, is a relatively common disease with more than a 100 individual subtypes. The two most common subtypes of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for most types of arthritis, though there are treatments to help manage the condition. Most arthritis treatments are designed to help relieve symptoms and improve joint function. You should discuss potential treatments with your doctor so you can come up with the ideal treatment regimen. You may have to try to different treatments before you determine an optimal regimen.
There are several different drug-related treatments for arthritis, some of which differ based on the type of arthritis you have. These are the different types of medication for treatment of arthritis:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This type of medication helps reduce pain and inflammation. NSAIDs include popular, over-the-counter medications including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen (Aleve). Some types of NSAIDs are only available through a prescription. Furthermore, some NSAIDs can be made available as a cream or gel and can be rubbed on to your joint. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of ingesting oral NSAIDs is stomach irritation and some NSAIDs carry a higher risk for heart attack or stroke.
- Analgesics. Analgesics are drugs that help reduce pain. However, these don’t have an effect on inflammation. Popular, over-the-counter analgesics include acetaminophen (Tylenol). Other types of analgesics that are only available through a prescription include oxycodone (Percocet), and hydrocodone (Norco).
- Counterirritants. There are certain types of creams and gels that contain a chemical known as capsaicin, which is the component of hot peppers that make it spicy. These counterirritants, when spread out over the skin over the aching joint, can help interfere with transmission of pain signals.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, a common subtype of arthritis. As rheumatoid arthritis develops due to your immune system attacking your joint tissue, taking DMARDs can help slow down or stop your immune system from attacking your joints. Examples of DMARDs include methotrexate (Trexall) and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).
- Biologics. These a drug type that is used often alongside DMARDs. Biologics are genetically engineered drugs that are designed to target various proteins that are involved in the immune system response. Examples of biologics include etanercept (Enbrel) and infliximab (Remicade).
- Corticosteroids. These include medication such as prednisone and cortisone. Corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. Corticosteroids can be taken as an oral drug or injected directly into the joint.
2. Physical therapy
Physical therapy can be used alongside medication to help improve and retain functioning of the joint. Physical therapy can help improve the range of motion of joints and increase the strength of muscles surrounding the joint. Physical therapists can also help put in splints or braces, if warranted.
In some extreme cases, the doctor may suggest surgery to help improve or restore your joint functioning. These are the types of surgeries that you may undergo to help treat your arthritis:
- Joint repair. Surgeons can help repair your joints by going in and smoothing out your joint surface or realign the joints to reduce pain and improve functioning. These procedures can be done by making small incisions on top of a joint (arthroscopically).
- Joint replacement. This type of procedure involves removing the damaged joint and replacing it with an artificial joint. The joints that are most commonly replaced include hips and knees.
- Joint fusion. This a type of surgery that is commonly used for smaller joints, such as those that are present in the wrist, ankle and fingers. The surgery involves the removal of the ends of two bones in the joint and lock the ends together until they heal together as one.
4. Lifestyle changes
Your doctor will likely recommend that you change aspects of your lifestyle to help relieve stress on your joints and reduce inflammation. These are the lifestyle changes that can help treat arthritis:
- Weight loss. One of the biggest changes you can make to your lifestyle is — if you are overweight — to lose weight. This will reduce the stress on your weight-bearing joints. This can also help improve your mobility and help curb any further injury to your joints.
- Exercise. Another important lifestyle change you can make is to conduct regular exercise. Some of the most recommended exercise regimens include swimming and water aerobics as the buoyancy of water helps reduce stress on weight-bearing joints.
- Application of heat and cold. When you experience arthritis pain, one thing you can do is to apply heat and cold to the joint that is affected.
- Use of assistive devices. Using different equipment such as canes and walkers can help protect your joints and improve your ability to conduct everyday tasks.
5. Alternative medicine
While there is little scientific evidence for the efficacy of alternative medicine for treatment of arthritis, many people still use alternative medicine alongside western medicine. The most common types of alternative medicine include:
- Glucosamine. While results are somewhat mixed, some studies have shown that glucosamine may help improve arthritis pain, particularly in patients that have moderate to severe pain.
- Acupuncture. This is a type of ancient therapy that involves the use of fine needles that are inserted at specific points to help relieve some types of pain.
- Yoga or tai chi. This type of exercise can help improve joint flexibility and range of motion in some types of patients with arthritis.