The Role of Your Osteoarthritis Healthcare Team
When I first developed arthritis in my spine, one of the greatest difficulties I had was finding an appropriate healthcare professional who could help diagnose me, understand my condition, and treat it properly. In fact, I went three years before I met an osteoarthritis doctor that I felt had the adequate background needed to help me.
Although it may seem absurd, I am not the only person who has struggled with this. Many relatives, friends, and other osteoarthritis (OA) sufferers I have talked to are often at a loss of who to turn to for proper treatment and management of their disease.
I went through a lot of trial and error in my journey towards achieving long-lasting pain relief — partly because I didn’t know what services they could offer me. Thus, here is a brief synopsis regarding the role of specific healthcare professionals in helping a person with OA.
My hope is by understanding what services each healthcare professional can offer you, that you can achieve quicker and longer lasting pain-relief.
A family doctor is the jack-of-all-trades when it comes to physicians. They are also likely the first doctor you’ll seek out after developing pain and stiffness in your joints.
Many people like the idea that the person they have known for years who treats their other ailments can also help them with their osteoarthritis. Some family physicians are trained in giving steroid injections into a variety of joints and have background regarding proper management of osteoarthritis and chronic pain.
However, they may end up referring you to other specialties for care if your pain is refractory to initial treatment or have a more severe case of OA.
I am biased because I am an aspiring physiatrist (physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor), but I truly believe they are the physicians of choice when looking for proper management of osteoarthritis.
Physiatrists are physicians whose sole focus is to optimize the function and quality of life for people with physical limitations, including OA. The services they can offer are injections for the arthritic joints, nerve conduction studies, EMG, consultation on the correct medications or procedure to use, and proper referral to other healthcare professionals for rehabilitation of the arthritic joint.
Pain Management Physician
When I was first referred to pain management, it sounded like a scary, dark place to seek help for my OA. However, I achieved incredible pain relief after corresponding with pain management.
Seeing a pain specialist does not necessarily mean narcotics will need to be used in your treatment. In fact, they will likely suggest other modalities before having a discussion with you regarding narcotics.
Similar to PM&R physicians, pain management doctors do a variety of injections, but they specialize in these interventions. They are also trained in a variety of other therapies for pain-relief, such as radiofrequency ablations, pain pumps, and spinal stimulators.
These therapies are for people with OA who have yet to achieve relief through physical therapy, medications, and other conservative measures.
Of all the physicians listed, an orthopedic surgeon is usually the last physician you probably will seek regarding treatment of OA. You as the patient will probably end up there if none of the other physicians can help you with non-surgical means and believe surgical intervention is necessary.
Orthopedic surgeons can offer injections occasionally for arthritic joints, but obviously have more of an emphasis on surgical options, such as joint replacements (for the hip, knee, or shoulder), joint remodeling surgery, or even joint removal surgeries.
These options are only for those with severe OA who have not responded to conservative treatments and have been recommended by other physicians for surgery.
Next page: looking at the types of therapists for OA.