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Arthritis: The Number-One Cause of Disability in America


By Brett L. Keller, DO, OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center

Arthritis impacts the daily life of about 54 million adults, making it the number-one cause of disability in the U.S. The estimate of people with doctor-diagnosed arthritis is expected to climb to 78 million by the year 2040, according to The Arthritis Foundation.

It’s important to have a diagnosis of arthritis from a doctor to ensure you receive the appropriate treatment. A diagnosis is based on a good medical history of the patient, physical exam, and appropriate X-rays.

As a disease, arthritis can come in different forms and affect people in different ways. The common thread, however, is inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Stiffness can affect any joint including fingers and hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, feet, shoulders, hips, and jaw.

From my standpoint, 40 to 50 percent of the patients I see have arthritis, with the knee being the most common, followed by hip and then shoulder.

Patients typically present with pain in the joint — described as aching pain — that becomes worse with activity or sometimes worse with a lack of activity. When someone is immobile, the joint becomes stiff and that can be painful. The pain arthritis sufferers feel can often be sharp, and it can change with the weather. It’s not uncommon for patients to say they know rain is coming because they can feel it in their knees. Joints do feel better in a warm, dry environment.

Treatment for arthritis initially begins with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Aleve. Other treatment includes restricting or modifying activity to avoid high-impact activities such as stair climbing, running, or jumping. Arthritis sufferers should transition to lower-impact activities. Anything in the water, which takes pressure off the joints, is good, especially in a warm pool. In addition, losing weight will improve how joints feel. Some dietary supplements, such as glucosamine, may provide relief. Natural health options, such as turmeric, can also help reduce inflammation.

When those early interventions either fail or begin to be less effective, a doctor may suggest cortisone or steroid injections to decrease the inflammation. These do not cure arthritis, but they do work to relieve the pain for three to six months, depending on the severity of the arthritis and a person’s activity. Physical therapy can also help people with arthritis as it increases strength and muscle around the joint and gets people moving, often resulting in weight loss, which is ideal.

When the pain affects a person’s daily living, their regular activity, wakes them at night, or impacts their ability to do their job and all other treatment options have not provided the relief they need, then it’s time to consider joint replacement.

Arthritis is a disease of the cartilage. When joint replacement is performed, the cartilage is removed so the joint will not become arthritic again. Following joint replacement surgery, physical therapy is necessary to restore the range of motion.

Dr. Brett L. Keller can be reached through the Joint Replacement Center at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington. For more information about the OSF Joint Replacement Center, call 309-662-3311, ext. 3070.