Tips for managing and understanding Osteoarthritis

Posted at 7:11 AM on Jul 8, 2017


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Arthritis is shockingly common, but not very well understood. “Arthritis” is not actually a single disease, but rather a term referring to joint pain or joint disease in general. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and more than 50 million adults in the U.S. have some form. It is most common among women, and occurs more frequently as people age. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the nation.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the degeneration of cartilage, the soft tissue located between the joints.

“As cartilage breaks down and wears away, bone rubs against bone causing pain, swelling and stiffness,” said Dr. Matthew CiRullo, Family Medicine practitioner at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. “Over time, joints lose strength and pain may become chronic. While there is no cure, there are many treatment options available for managing joint pain and protecting quality of life.”

Risk factors for osteoarthritis include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury. Since osteoarthritis in incurable and degenerative, a patient’s commitment to self-management is critical to minimizing the speed and scope of the condition’s impact. There are several elements of arthritis self-management, ideally employed in combination for maximum success and relief. They fall into the categories of daily routine, exercise and medical treatments. We cover the best practices in each category below.


  • Do some gentle exercise and stretching right before bed – you’ll feel less stiff in the morning.
  • Adjust your position frequently when working, reading, watching TV. Be sure to stand and walk around a bit, at least every half hour or so.
  • Avoid repetitive movements – overusing a single joint can cause more pain.
  • Manage your weight and quit smoking. Excess weight contributes to stress on damaged joints, and smoking causes damage to connective tissue.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t commit to activities beyond your ability level, putting yourself in a position of healing for several days. Do a little bit, in your comfort zone, every day and evaluate how you feel before starting again.


  • While it may seem counterintuitive when it hurts to move, physical activity is critical to managing the pain and loss of mobility associated with arthritis. Force yourself to move every day!
  • Choose activities that build the muscles around your joints, but don’t put stress on the joints themselves. Focus on stretching, range-of-motion exercises, and gradual, progressive strength training.
  • Include low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling and water exercise, to help control your weight and improve your mood.
  • Avoid activities that involve impact on your joints and/or repetitive motion, such as running, jumping, or the repetition of a golf or tennis swing.


  • There are many different medications available for arthritis pain relief, but all medications involve some risk of side effects when taken over a long term. Talk with your doctor about NSAIDS, acetaminophen, or topical analgesics, to see what might work best for you.
  • A qualified Physical Therapy professional is an excellent resource to help you learn to move and manage your body to minimize the pain and mobility loss associated with arthritis. Commitment to PT can mitigate a path that would otherwise lead to surgery.
  • Finally, when more conservative methods have failed, a patient may find the best path to relief and quality of life is a surgical one. Options include minimally invasive joint repair, joint fusions, and joint replacements.

Skilled orthopedic specialists can provide you with the pros and cons of each option, and help you decide which path is best for your condition and desired lifestyle.

“If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with degenerative arthritis, don’t despair,” said CiRullo. "Invest in the right medical care and self-management tools, and you can continue to live a high quality life for many years.”

If you are experiencing joint pain of any kind, have it checked out. Understanding the cause of your pain, and the condition of your joints, goes a long way in developing a care plan. If you need to be connected to a physician who specializes in arthritis and bone and joint health, visit for primary care, orthopedics and physical rehabilitation information.

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