Making a diagnosis of arthritis often includes evaluating symptoms, a physical examination, and X-rays, which are important to show the extent of damage to the joint. Blood tests and other laboratory tests may help to determine the type of arthritis.
At present, most types of arthritis cannot be cured. Researchers continue to make progress in finding the underlying causes for the major types of arthritis. There are more than 100 types of arthritis.
The goals of arthritis treatment are to provide pain relief, increase motion and improve strength. There are several kinds of treatment:
Many over-the-counter medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen (common anti-inflammatory drugs) may be used to effectively control pain and inflammation in arthritis. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be used to effectively control pain. Prescription medications also are available if over-the-counter medications are not effective. The physician chooses a medication by taking into account the type of arthritis, its severity, and the patient's general physical health. Patients with ulcers, asthma, kidney, or liver disease may not be able to safely take anti-inflammatory medications. Injections of liquid cortisone directly into the joint may temporarily help to relieve pain and swelling. It is important to know, however, that repeated frequent injections into the same joint can damage the joint and have undesirable side effects.
Canes, crutches, walkers, or splints may help relieve the stress and strain on arthritic joints. Learning methods of performing daily activities that are the less stressful to painful joints also may be helpful. Certain exercises and physical therapy (such as heat treatments) may be used to decrease stiffness and to strengthen the weakened muscles around the joint.
In general, an orthopaedist will perform surgery for arthritis when other methods of nonsurgical treatment have failed to give relief. The physician and patient will choose the type of surgery by taking into account the type of arthritis, its severity, and the patient's physical condition. Surgical procedures include:
- removal of the diseased or damaged joint lining;
- realignment of the joints;
- total joint replacement; and
- fusion of the bone ends of a joint to prevent joint motion and relieve joint pain.
In persons with severe cases of arthritis, orthopaedic surgery can often provide dramatic pain relief and restore lost joint function. A total joint replacement, for example, can usually enable a person with severe arthritis in the hip or the knee to walk without pain or stiffness.