Seven in 10. That's how many older Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, which strikes 27 million people of all ages in the U.S. For many sufferers, pain is a daily companion that can keep them from living full, active lives.
But a wide variety of effective treatments can change that reality for most people living with chronic pain. Melanie Rosenblatt, M.D., a South Florida doctor whose practice specializes in pain management, says the key is finding the right approach — ranging from drugs, to injections, surgery, and even alternative-medicine strategies — to ease chronic joint pain from arthritis.
"What's interesting about aging and arthritis and our aging Baby Boomer population is that it's so widespread and it affects so many people. And a lot of people just write it off as, 'Well, I'm just getting old what do you expect?' " Dr. Rosenblatt tells Newsmax Health.
"That's OK to a point, as long as you can function. But if it gets to the point where it's starting to affect your daily life, where you're not participating in family activities and … sacrificing your quality of life for the pain, that's when I think we need to intervene."
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Osteoarthritis (OA) is caused by aging joints, injury, and obesity. Symptoms include joint pain and stiffness and can affect the hand, wrist, neck, back, knee, and hip.
Dr. Rosenblatt, who is featured in a new Discovery Channel documentary called "Pain Matters," notes that many different treatments can ease OA pain. At one end of the spectrum are powerful prescription painkillers and surgery. But a number of other strategies can also be effective, including massage, yoga, physical therapy, exercise, over-the-counter medications, muscle relaxants, steroid injections, and even non-conventional medical treatments.
What is most important, she explains, is making sure a treatment plan is tailored to the individual needs of a particular patient.
"We worry about the weekend warriors, they're out golfing, or boating or playing tennis… but there's a big disparity between the active tennis players who get pain on the weekends because they overplay and the people who are laying home on the couch because they can't move." she says. "Everybody is unique, so you want a targeted program just for your particular situation."
For many people, simply staying active can be helpful. But in cases of serious "crippling arthritis," she says, "Then it's time to really go to the next step … There are medications that can help safety. People are so afraid of getting addicted, they're so afraid of becoming dependent, but there really are ways to improve your life."
For pain in particular areas — knees, hips, shoulders — steroid injections can help. For more complicated cases of back pain and other more serious chronic conditions, surgery and prescription medications are sometimes the best option, she says. But for many other patients, alternative therapies and even some supplements — such as chondroitin and glucosamine — can help.
"If they're helping, use them," she advises. "And if they’re not then it's time to look for something a little more aggressive … There's a lot of things that can certainly help."
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