One of the main reasons patients come to Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine is to seek help for the stiffness and pain of osteoarthritis. Because our practice is a holistic one, we treat complaints as they relate to general well-being, not just to individual joints. We have spent years in the field of rehabilitation medicine, a discipline that focuses on pain relief and restoration of function. During these years, we have learned to concentrate on healing our patients nonsurgically so they can return to the productive, pleasurable activities they love.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage at the ends of bones gradually wears away. Because that cartilage normally provides a protective cushion between the bones of a joint, its erosion results in bones rubbing against one another in a painful, corrosive manner. This degeneration happens as a result of the natural process of aging, although the speed at which it occurs varies greatly due to heredity, lifestyle choices, disease processes, and accidental injuries. 

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis; others include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout. It must be understood that the disorder, whatever its type, affects not only the cartilage but the joint in its entirety. In a patient with osteoarthritis, the lining of the joint may become inflamed and the connective tissue may also deteriorate.

Where on the body does osteoarthritis usually occur?

Though the condition can occur at any joint, osteoarthritis typically affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. It’s important to realize that osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but it can be managed through lifestyle changes and treatments administered by qualified professionals.

Symptoms

While almost everyone who lives into old age develops osteoarthritis, and many young people are troubled by it prematurely after a serious injury, the severity of symptoms covers a broad spectrum. Some people just experience minor aches and stiffness. Others become seriously incapacitated. Whatever level of pain and other symptoms you are dealing with, Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine physiatrists want to make you more comfortable by relieving:

  • Pain, during or after movement or exercise
  • Stiffness and difficulty in standing up when you awaken or after a period of inactivity. 
  • Soreness or tenderness when light pressure is applied to the site
  • Restricted range of motion, frequently noticed in the inability to turn the neck smoothly or in the inflexibility of the knee
  • Grating sounds (e.g. popping and cracking) and sensations of non-fluid movement when the head is turned or the leg extended
  • Bone spurs, small hard lumps of bone protruding around the affected joint
  • Swelling and inflammation of the joint and its surrounding tissues

What risk factors make developing osteoarthritis more likely?

Factors that may increase your risk of osteoarthritis include:

  • Getting older
  • Being female — women, inexplicably, are more likely to develop osteoarthritis
  • Being obese — excess pounds put increased stress on weight-bearing joints
  • Having suffered a serious joint injury — e.g. in a car or sports accident, increases the risk and shorten the time frame for developing osteoarthritis
  • Repeated stress on a joint — at work, playing a sport or engaging in another activity 
  • Heredity — if a close relative has severe osteoarthritis, you may have inherited the tendency 
  • Congenital malformation — being born with a joint abnormality increases your risk
  • Some metabolic diseases, like diabetes, make osteoarthritis more likely

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

At times, especially if the degeneration has progressed far enough, our doctors will see obvious external signs of the arthritic process, including swelling, redness, and inflexibility (restricted range of motion). Whether or not there is visible evidence of osteoarthritis, however, your symptoms may lead our trained diagnosticians to administer or prescribe one or more of the diagnostic tests below:

  • Imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs — the former may show bone spurs, stress fractures, or evidence of spinal stenosis, whereas the latter will illuminate soft tissue damage (e.g. involving cartilage)
  • Blood tests or analysis of joint fluid to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis or rule out other systemic problems
  • Spinal epidural injections to pinpoint where arthritis may be affecting a facet joint of the spine

Treatment Options

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our offices take a pragmatic approach to healing. Our primary goal is to help you suffer less and enjoy more. To that end, we may prescribe:

  • Acupuncture
  • Medications to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, like painkillers or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories) as oral capsules or topicals
  • Specific antidepressants that have been found to treat chronic pain effectively
  • Physical therapy — exercises, with and without equipment, designed to increase strength and flexibility, and to reduce pain
  • Occupational therapy — to retrain painful, stiff joints to perform everyday household and hygiene tasks (e.g. brushing your hair, getting up and downstairs, reaching for something on a high shelf) without causing further pain or damage  
  • Injections of hyaluronic acid to lubricate the knee joint
  • Injections of corticosteroid and analgesics to substantially diminish pain*

* We are careful to limit the number of such shots administered because they may weaken bones over time

There are situations in which osteoarthritis may require surgical intervention, for example, to remove a bone spur, replace cartilage, realign dislocated bones or replace a joint (usually a hip or knee). A relatively small percentage of patients have such surgeries. Most of the time, the conservative/ complementary medical therapies we use will greatly improve your ability to function with far less pain. However, if your case requires surgery, we will refer you to one of our colleagues who has a surgical specialty in the field you need.

Has osteoarthritis put you on the sidelines? — Contact Us and Get Back in the Game

Don’t allow yourself to age prematurely. If you are suffering the slings and arrows of osteoarthritis, make an appointment to meet with one of our competent, caring physiatrists today to make a plan to rejuvenate. Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine will help you regain your get up and go. Contact our office today to schedule your first appointment.