Obtaining an Osteoarthritis Diagnosis
Coordination is the Name of the Game
Each doctor you work with is going to approach your care from their level of expertise. This is a huge plus because you obviously want them to be an expert in their field. The drawback comes when you are given a treatment suggestion or a diagnosis, your appointment is over, and you head home. Figuring out the next steps can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to turn.
Try to find at least one doctor that gives you their time and answers your questions. I’ve found that my general practitioner and rheumatologist both fit the bill beautifully. Keeping a regular appointment with the same doctors can help track your symptoms and identify areas of concern. If you feel like your visits are too rushed, ask for the first appointment of the day or call back with your questions.
Ideally, your doctors will also communicate with each other when necessary, but that isn’t always possible. You’ll want to find a system to organize your medical records, medications, symptoms, and progress. You can create your own in a journal or use an app like Track & React, to help you stay organized.
Osteoarthritis Pain Management Made Simple
The majority of treatments for osteoarthritis are sought for the primary goal of relieving pain. Joint stiffness is a close second, and there are numerous ways to approach both of these symptoms. Don’t feel as though you have to try all of them at once! Pick one or two that work quickly for you and then you can explore others as your treatment progresses. You may also
find that some treatments lose their effectiveness over time and that will be the indicator it’s time to try something new.
Depending on your individual health needs, pain management can include any combination of the following:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, like aspirin or Tylenol. These can be helpful to manage daily symptoms. Just be sure to get a definitive diagnosis, so other pain conditions or health issues can be ruled out.
- Prescription osteoarthritis medications. If you feel like you’re taking Tylenol like tic tacs and it’s not doing the job anymore, talk to your doctor about a prescription strength anti-inflammatory or pain relief medication that focuses on treating osteoarthritis symptoms. You will have to keep regular appointments so you can keep track of your progress, and some medications can leave you with unwanted side effects so just be sure to get all the information before making a decision.
- Physical therapy, including hot or cold therapy. When pain, stiffness, and fatigue are keeping you from being active, you will need to push yourself to stay as physical as you can. Stretching, swimming, light yoga or walking boosts your mood, aids in flexibility and motion, and helps manage your weight.
- Acupuncture. Managing chronic pain can make the rest of you tighten up and not feel very relaxed. Acupuncture has been known to help relieve pain and stiffness from OA symptoms as well as manage stress or anxiety. Even if one strategy doesn’t work 100 percent, when you combine a few it can really make a difference.
- Massage. Depending on your pain level, light massage can be a great way to relax and relieve sore muscles. You’ll want to work with someone who is experienced in massaging people with pain conditions, so ask your doctor or rheumatologist for recommendations.
- Stress management. If you already have a system for managing stress, keep it up! If not, you will need to put one in place and sooner rather than later. We’ll talk about this later, but dealing with chronic pain adds a whole new level to stress management that you will need to tackle. Not to worry! There are lots of resources to help you out.
- Joint injections. After you have tried various pain management strategies for some time, you may become an eligible patient for joint injections. Your doctor will administer medicine (usually a pain reliever and/or a steroid for anti-inflammatory support) directly into the inflamed joint. This is an outpatient procedure that can give you up to months of pain relief.
- Joint replacement or surgery. Working with your orthopedic surgeon and rheumatologist will help you determine if you are a good candidate for any kind of replacement or surgical procedures.
Everyday Tips and Tricks for Living With Osteoarthritis
After you have done all you can to treat your arthritis from a medical standpoint, there are simple modifications you can make to your daily routine to help promote flexibility, reduce pain and strengthen muscles. You are probably already making daily decisions to accommodate your arthritis symptoms, even if you’re not aware of it.
For example, I hadn’t noticed I was avoiding certain activities because I knew I couldn’t manage all the walking that would be involved, like shopping at the mall.
Since osteoarthritis is exacerbated by repetitive motion and overuse, you may want to switch up activities that you do the most to give those muscles a break.
For example, if typing is a big part of your job and you have OA in your hands, see if you can use a dictation system to cut down on the time you spend on the keyboard. If you are sitting for long stretches of time, stand up and bend, stretch, or take a short walk as often as possible to help reduce stiffness. Ask your doctor for specific recommendations or you can work with a physical therapist to tailor a program for you.
You will need to conserve your energy as much as you can, since doing things with limited mobility can take twice as long and leave you feeling exhausted. You may want to consider delegating tasks or asking for help.
Many people find that asking for help or making certain accommodations a stressful task, and I was no different. You will need to decide for yourself what you can do to make your daily life more successful without allowing the stress to overtake you. Which brings us to arthritis and depression.