Medically Reviewed by Chad Thurman, DO
About one in three adults experience joint pain – primarily in the knee and hip. For those over 65, as many as half the people suffered knee or hip pain in the last month. Those are the statistics. More important to the people suffering this pain is: What can I do about?
“In most cases, the pain is due to osteoarthritis, caused by joint wear and tear,” says McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Chad Thurman. “Ultimately, there’s great success in a knee or hip joint replacement to return people to a normal lifestyle. However, there are a number of treatments that can be tried before we turn to surgery.”
First steps include losing weight and exercising. For every pound you lose, you are taking 5 pounds of pressure off your knee. A good goal sets a 5% weight loss in 5 months.
Reduce the pain and improve joint function with moderate exercises, such as tai chi, aerobics, range of motion and strength training – especially those that build muscles on the front of your thigh. A physical therapist can guide you to the appropriate exercises. Low cost activities, such as biking or swimming, prove useful as well.
Although exercise may help the function, if you feel more pain during the exercise better stop.
Heat or ice convey some relief. Start a daily treatment of ice on a towel by the joint. If that doesn’t help, try a heating pad twice daily for 20 minutes. Again, put a towel or cloth between the heating pad and the joint.
CANES AND BRACES
People with knee problems may improve function and reduce pain by using a cane. However, it can also add pressure to other joints, such as the hip. Braces might help, but use them only as directed by a physical therapist or an orthopedic specialist.
Over-the-counter medications — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen or naproxen — help but also have some potential side effects like ulcers, GI bleeding and possible cardiovascular risk. Experts suggest starting with acetaminophen, because it is safer for older people. Topical rub-on versions of these medications can help people with knee problems but may cause a rash.
Duloxetine (Cymbalta), an antidepressant, also helps with chronic pain. In addition to side effects — such as nausea and fatigue — abruptly ceasing use of the drug can result in auditory and dream side effects.
Some people turn to the non-FDA regulated glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for help. But according to American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, there’s little evidence that these help the knee joint.
Opioids can be taken but should be used with caution due to side effects and addiction issues.
Steroid injections offer temporary relief from pain but are not a long-term solution. Injections of fluid similar to the viscous cushion in the joint can bring 6 months relief, unless the joint is already bone-on-bone.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
When pain in your knee or hip nags you or keeps you from normal activities, try over-the-counter medications but schedule an appointment with an Orthopedic Specialist to correctly diagnose and treat your problem.
Waiting won’t help.
Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, Harvard Health, Consumer Reports, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, New York Times Health, Arthritis Foundation, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention