Treating Artritis Today

By Dr. John Clark, Parkview Orthopedics at Parkview Adventist Medical Center

Dr. John ClarkAlmost one in three Maine people are reported to suffer from arthritis, placing Maine among those states reporting the highest rates of this disease. And as the news headlines continue to report increased warnings, wrongful death lawsuits and worldwide bans on many of the once promising arthritis drugs, what are almost one third of Maine people supposed to do?

It all began this past September when Merck suddenly yanked Vioxx from pharmacy shelves after a clinical trial showed people taking the drug had an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Bextra, a drug often prescribed as an alternative to Vioxx, has now also been removed from the market. Celebrex and the over the counter medication Aleve, have also come under fire, leaving arthritis patients wondering how they will be able to manage their chronic and often debilitating joint pain.

Arthritis refers to more than 100 different diseases that cause chronic pain, swelling and limited movement in joints and connective tissue throughout the body. The three most prevalent forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Although specific causes of arthritis are unknown, it is commonly agreed that symptoms stem from wear and tear, genetics, fractures, torn cartilage, and avascular necrosis. Arthritis affects people in all age groups, including as many as 285,000 American children.

Despite increased warnings, many physicians continue to prescribe Celebrex instead of recommending drugs like Naproxen, Aspirin and Ibuprofen, because in some patients these drugs are more likely to cause stomach ulcers. Physicians remind their patients that often the benefits still out weigh the risks associated with the drug. But because many arthritis patients also have serious cardiovascular concerns, physicians are turning to different and often more natural treatment options.

Simple treatment options such as a healthy diet, adequate water consumption and exercise can vastly alleviate joint pain and replace the need for anti-inflammatory medications. For example, simply drinking more water can protect joint cartilage by providing added nutrition, shock absorption and lubrication. Scientific evidence has shown a mild anti-inflammatory supplement called Chondroitin and a diet low in animal products can also provide some cartilage protection. Physicians often recommend using a combination of ice and heat to reduce swelling and improve blood supply to the joints. Most all arthritis patients are encouraged to engage in weight bearing exercise, stretching and aerobics. Weight bearing exercises strengthen the muscles surrounding joints and provide protection and shock absorption as well as pump nutrients in and out of the joint cartilage. Stretching and aerobic exercise help prevent injury by increasing joint mobility, flexibility and endurance.

For many patients steroids or hyaluronic acid injections can alleviate pain in one joint or muscle. Hyaluronic acid mimics the protective effects of fluid found around healthy joints. However, no natural treatments, injections or medications like Celebrex can help replace unhealthy or lost cartilage. Unlike bones cartilage has no blood supply and heals poorly, especially if torn. Arthroscopic surgery removes the rough and torn cartilage without damaging remaining cartilage. Joint replacement can return people to nearly normal life activities if cartilage has been completely lost. If you are looking for alternatives to medications or think you may be suffering from arthritis have your doctor refer you to an orthopedist today.

John Clark, MD is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in traditional orthopedics and lifestyle medicine. He is with Parkview Orthopedics, a hospital based practice at Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick.




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