Occupational therapists pitch in by helping people with OA better navigate their home or work environments. They have many tools at their disposal, such as leg extenders that lengthen the legs of your office or dining room chair so that you don’t have to bend as deeply to sit.
Many people also turn to alternative therapies to treat OA. For years, much hope was pinned on the use of two supplements -- glucosamine and chondroitin -- to help OA pain and possibly slow joint destruction. Glucosamine and chondroitin are part of normal cartilage, which serves as a cushion between the bones in a joint. A large government-funded study looking at the benefits of this duo did not pan out. That said, some people do see relief with these supplements, Hillstrom says. “They can’t hurt you and they may help.” Several weeks of treatment is typically needed to see any effect.
SAMe is another supplement that has shown promise for easing OA pain. Multiple studies have shown that SAMe may work as well as anti-inflammatory pain relievers for decreasing OA symptoms. This may be particularly helpful for people who have trouble with side effects from anti-inflammatory drugs, particularly stomach upset. SAMe may take up to 30 days before you begin to notice improvement.
Some swear by acupuncture -- which involves stimulating certain channels or meridians along the body with fine needles to relieve pain. One large German study showed that acupuncture, when paired with usual medical care, reduced pain and stiffness, and improved function and quality of life among people with knee OA. These improvements were immediate, and lasted for at least six months.
Surgery for OA
Despite all of these options, some people with OA may still need joint replacement surgery. How do you know if you fall into this category? “It all comes down to pain,” says Duke’s Pisetsky. “How much pain are you in due to OA?”
He asks his patients to rate their pain with a 1-10 scale of ascending pain. “Most people can live with a three, but if we can’t get them into that range with conservative therapies, joint replacement surgery may be appropriate.” During these surgeries, the damaged joint is removed and replaced with an artificial one.
Still, joint replacement surgery is not right for everyone. “Surgeons are reluctant to operate on people who are overweight or obese because it increases the risks associated with any surgery, so weight loss is still indicated,” says Pisetsky.