Degenerative joint disease, also called osteoarthritis or OA, is a common condition. As people age, joints undergo a lot of wear and tear where the cartilage in the joint, that serves as the joint “cushion” thins and deteriorates. Chronic, repetitive motions inflame joints and damages precious cartilage over the years. Any joint can become degenerative, but the hips, knees, hands, and the spine are the most commonly affected. I have it in all of those places.
A recent study says as many as 91 million Americans may suffer from degenerative joint disease, and the condition is painful, leading to loss of function and curtailed movement in the joints affected. Read on for treatments you can use to ease your pain.
What Can Be Done for Degenerative Joint Disease?
Although OA is a common and painful condition, there are ways to treat and lessen the symptoms of degenerative joint disease. Best of all, effective treatments are easy to find and don’t cost a lot of money, either. Treatment methods will also help the joints stay loose so you can continue to exercise and prevent weight gain and stop the joints from deteriorating further. If you’re suffering from the pain of degenerative joint disease, give some of these products and methods a try to get relief from your pain and discomfort. I’ve used them all, and keep them in my pain relief arsenal.
Weight gain is a common side effect because people with painful joints are unable to get adequate exercise. Some drugs used to treat the disease also cause weight gain (thanks prednisone). Weight gain prevents further movement, leading to a vicious cycle where OA worsens over time. Even so, it’s crucial to keep moving. Exercise and movement can help keep the joints stay loose and improve blood flow to the area. An increase in blood flow will deliver vital nutrients to the joints. Nutrients will prevent further decay and help fight painful inflammation. The two best low-impact exercises that I've been able to do are swimming and using a recumbent stationary bike.
Heat can help loosen up stiff joints and increase circulation. Quick, hot baths and showers can help alleviate some of the stiffness of arthritis pain. Heating pads are also incredibly useful for improving mobility and loosening up tight, painful joints. I love my heating pad and use it every day for pain relief on my lower back and knees. Depending on the area most affected will determine what size and shape of the heating pad you’ll need. You only want to keep the heat on a painful joint for about twenty minutes at a time to prevent burns. I use an extra-large heating pad so I can either wrap my knee completely or cover my lower back with room to spare.
Warm, paraffin wax products are also effective treatment devices for degenerative joint disease in the hands and feet, especially. Amazon sells paraffin wax machines that come with several refills, and they’re not just great for relieving arthritis pain - paraffin wax is good at moisturizing and softening the skin, too.
There are many effective over the counter pain patches you can use for degenerative joints. I use Salonpas patches because they deliver fast-acting, topical analgesics straight to the source of inflammation once applied. Patches come in many different sizes, and the company also sells effective lidocaine sprays, too.
Another brand I use is Tiger Balm, they make patches and rubs for aching joints and inflammation. The herbal ingredients in Tiger Balm are concentrated, so you only need a little bit to get some relief. It does have capsicum in it, so you need to be careful not to get it near your eyes.
Tens machines use safe, clinically-proven electrical stimulation devices used to treat joint and muscle pain. Tens machines act quickly, aren’t invasive, and don’t require the use of drugs or ointments. I use one when I go out, tucked into my pocket. It allows me to move around without being in agonizing pain. A Tens machine comes with wired pads that you place on or near the pain site. The device will send soothing pulses via electrodes through the skin and into the nerve fibers. These pulses will suppress pain signals in the brain. The vibrations also encourage the body to produce higher levels of natural pain-killing endorphins and encephalins.
You can get TENS machines from basic to professional grade at places like Amazon, Walmart, Walgreens and other pharmacies for many different health conditions, including degenerative joint disease.
If your neck or lower back is most affected by arthritis pain, a Shiatsu pillow may offer you some much-needed relief. Shiatsu is a Japanese massage technique that is thought to restore healthy energy into the body. Shiatsu pillows use continuous, rhythmic pulses into the neck and lower back muscles to relieve arthritis pain. You can find Shiatsu pillows that have heat, are cordless or corded, and of various sizes for different areas of your body on Amazon and at stores like Walmart. I use a heated Shiatsu pillow and have found that the corded version provides greater relief. However, I still use the cordless pillow for convenience and it does a good job at relieving my lower back pain.
Arthritis gloves are designed to increase circulation, relieve swelling, and improve hand functioning in OA patients. There are many different styles of arthritis gloves, including open finger gloves, wrist wraps, and gloves that use infrared light to deliver additional pain relief. Because I have arthritis in my hands, I use compression gloves for relieving my pain especially when I use the computer. Choose the ones that best fit your usage, you don’t want a thick velcro wrist wrap and braced thumb while trying to type but those are perfect for when you’re not using your hands (sleeping, watching tv, etc.).
Arthritis knee braces help with mobility, stability, pressure and pain relief. There are an array of different arthritis knee braces, and videos and guides to help you choose the one that will be fit your needs. The key to a great knee brace is the right fit, so measure carefully before you buy one. For severe knee pain, before my knee replacements, I used Bauerfeind knee braces. They’re not cheap, but they do a far better job at stabilizing your knees and reducing pain (especially when it’s bone on bone) compared to thinner all-purpose knee braces.
While heat therapies are ideal for improving blood flow and increasing mobility, cold treatments help alleviate acute arthritis pain. Cold restricts blood vessels, slows circulation, and reduces swelling. Cold is also known as a numbing agent and can dull pain significantly. If you have a sudden attack of arthritis joint pain, consider icing the joint for about twenty minutes. You can submerge the area in a cold, ice bath, or apply an ice pack to the joint. There are many gel cold packs you can purchase that come in sleeve forms, making them easy to wrap around a painful joint.
If you don’t have extra money to spend, you can make effective cold packs by mixing a cup of rubbing alcohol with two cups of water and freezing the mixture in a Ziploc bag.
Degenerative joint disease may be an inevitable part of getting older or the side effect of injury, but you don’t have to live with the pain. If you’re suffering from the decreased mobility, stiffness, and discomfort of degenerative joint disease, give these treatment methods a try. The more you’re able to protect and prevent joints from stiffening up, the easier it will be to move and keep OA from worsening.