In other cases, explains Mody, it may be time to talk about joint replacement surgery. “It’s important not to wait too long when that becomes necessary, because that can lead to muscle atrophy and joint contracture, and you may never really get back what you lost.”
3. When you need tools.
Much of the time, you can make your own changes to your home environment to stay as independent as possible and minimize your risk of injury. Get rid of throw rugs, put handles in the bathroom and a shower chair if necessary, and go minimalist in your decor, eliminating things like small occasional chairs and tables that block your path and giving yourself plenty of space to walk around.
But there’s a lot more that can be helpful to you. If you’re encountering a lot of difficulty managing independently at home, ask your physician for a physical/occupational therapy referral, or a home safety evaluation.
“They’re like MacGyver,” says Mody of occupational therapists. “If you have bad osteoarthritis of the hands, for example, they have assistive devices for things like doorknobs, jar lids, and writing with pens.”
4. When you’re de-feeted.
One of the biggest risks with osteoarthritis is a fall, and one of the biggest culprits in falling is bad footwear. Especially if arthritis has had an effect on the shape of your feet, you need customized shoes that will keep you comfortable andwell balanced.
“It used to be that arthritis patients had to wear these ugly orthopedic shoes,” says Mody. “Today, there’s no reason to be wearing uncomfortable, ugly or ill-fitting shoes. Talk to your doctor about meeting with a podiatrist. Life is too short to be wearing uncomfortable shoes!”
One of the biggest problems Mody sees is patients who wait too long to see their doctor as pain is limiting their life. “If you wait until you’ve lost a lot of muscle mass, or no longer have the range of motion you used to have, chances are you won’t get it back.”
So if you’re not sure whether you need to see your doctor, ask yourself these questions:
- Can I get into and out of the car with minimal difficulty?
- Can I put my shoes on independently?
- Can I tie my shoes?
“These are all motions that require good rotation of the hip,” says Mody. “If you’re having trouble with them, you need to see your doctor. With the knee, people usually notice when they’ve lost range of motion there, so fortunately I haven’t seen a significant contracture of the knee in a long time.”
Then ask yourself one final question: Are you doing all the things you want to be doing? If not, is it because your arthritis is getting in the way? Then it’s time to see the doctor. “Our job as physicians is to have people live the longest, most fulfilled, happiest lives they can.”