Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among US adults, 55 and older, and in many cases leads to total joint replacements. That is a big decision – sometimes necessary, sometimes premature, says Victor Romano, MD, an orthopedist and author of Finding The Source: Maximizing Your Results—With and Without Orthopaedic Surgery.
“Total-joint replacements are wonderful and can be life-changing, but they also can wear down and become infected,” Romano says. “The best approach for arthritis of the knee, for example, is to wait as long as possible before replacing the knee. There are several steps you can take to deal with arthritis pain before a surgical option. These measures, some of which you can perform without the aid of a medical professional, often can significantly lessen the pain and improve the quality of life.”
Dr. Romano recommends five steps you can take to handle arthritis before opting for surgery:
Wear good shoes with arch supports. With weight bearing and time, the arches in feet tend to fail. “Good shoes with arch supports improve the alignment of the feet and ultimately improve the alignment of the knees,” Romano says. “The feet and ankles act as shock absorbers for the knees.”
Have a daily exercise and balance program. Studies show that arthritic patients who exercise do much better than those who don’t. Romano recommends at least a 20-minute daily exercise program for all patients with arthritis. “Exercise should include stretching, aerobic activity, and strength training,” he says.
Use a hinged knee brace, as needed, for support. Wear the smallest brace that makes you the most comfortable. “Do not wear the brace for everyday activities,” Romano says, “but for extra activities such as golfing, shopping, or exercise. It unloads the arthritic area and allows you to pursue more activities without pain, which you may not have been able to do otherwise.”
Eat nutritious foods and keep your weight under control. Weight-loss reduces the stress on your knees and increases mobility. “Why not try an anti-inflammatory diet?” Romano says. “Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation of the arteries as well as inflammation of the joints.”
Improve your bone health. Improving your bone health with increased calcium intake, daily vitamin D, and weight-bearing exercises can lessen the pain of arthritis. “Should you eventually need a total-joint replacement, building up your bone density will improve your chances of having a long-lasting replacement,” Romano says.
“Arthritis is not something that can be removed with surgery or scraped out with a scope,” Romano says. “You must listen to your joints. When you’ve tried all of these nonsurgical measures and they don’t seem to work any longer, then surgery may be your best option. If surgery is necessary, rapid and successful recovery is possible by having optimized your physical and nutritional health beforehand.”
Victor Romano, MD, drvictorromano.com