Joints are comprised of where bones meet and move against one another. To stop these bones from being in direct contact with each other, each bone is covered in a soft sponge like substance called cartilage which acts like a cushion during movement.
Over time however, through simple every day activity; this cartilage can be worn away leaving no protective covering to stop bones from touching directly. This cartilage degradation is called arthritis, and when it occurs damage to the bones may happen which can cause inflammation, pain, and a loss of function in the joint.
What causes Extremity Arthritis?
Arthritic inflammation can result from everyday use of the joint once cartilage has been worn down. The most prominent cause between cartilage loss is simply growing old, as cartilage degrades over time. It is possible for direct damage to occur to the joint that destroys the surrounding cartilage, and may also cause the remaining cartilage to degrade at an accelerated rate. Nearly one out of every three Americans has some degree of arthritic damage in one or more of their joints.
Symptoms of Extremity Arthritis
The primary symptoms that arthritis is present differ based on location and severity of the degradation but include pain in the joint, tenderness to touch of the skin over a joint, warmth of the area, and potentially a loss in functionality of the joint.
Treatment Options for Extremity Arthritis
The available options for treatment are different for each joint, and for the level of damage that is present. Generally, the earlier arthritis is treated, the less chance it has to cause permanent to the joint
- Patients who have minor symptoms of arthritis can utilize a number of conservative treatments to slow the degradation and provide pain relief. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help to reduction periods of swelling in the joint and provide relief. Patients who are experiencing arthritic symptoms due to repeated usage of the joint can alleviate their symptoms by giving the joint more time to rest between usages. This form of arthritic pain is common in patients repeatedly engaging in physical activity without properly resting the joint between sessions.
- For weight bearing joints, a cane or bracing may be beneficial to help unload the painful joint. In fact, a cane may unload a painful joint by over 50%.
- The use of warm (or cold, based on whichever works better) compresses on the joint can also provide relief. In addition, topical pain medications may provide exceptional pain relief, with the added benefit that there is no bloodstream absorption or drug interactions.
- Patients who have moderate damage to their joint and who are experiencing weakness as a result may receive physical therapy in addition to the conservative treatments mentioned. Physical therapy seeks to preform carefully controlled exercises designed to build joint strength, which assists in reducing the symptomatic pain currently present. By strengthening the joints, they are better able to stave the degradation of arthritis and reduce the symptoms.
- Patients with moderate to high levels of damage may receive one or more injections designed to provide immediate and prolonged relief to a joint with pain due to arthritis. If pain is being felt due to prolonged periods of inflammation in the joint, a steroidal injection directly into the area can help reduce the presence of swelling and slow the degradative process. Corticosteroid and hyaluronic injections are particularly effective for arthritic damage.
Patients may also have one or more regenerative options available in the form of stem cell injections or platelet-rich plasma injections. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is the usage of the platelets in a patient’s blood to create an injectable.
A small sample of blood will be taken where the platelets, which house the healing factors of the blood, will be collected and then injected into the afflicted joint. PRP is effective for reducing the arthritic damage present and accelerating the healing process of an area to provide symptomatic relief.