The goals for treatment for osteoarthritis are:
The treatment for OA depends on the severity of the disease and the patient’s own lifestyle expectations.
Early cases of OA can generally be treated with:
In OA of the hand, rest can be accomplished by selectively immobilising the joint in a splint. Splinting is initially done for a period of 3 - 4 weeks, during which the splint is worn continuously.
This is usually combined with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) taken at the same time. If there is improvement in symptoms, use of the splint during the day is progressively diminished over the course of the coming month/s.
Use of NSAIDS
Types of medication
The most commonly prescribed medications are painkillers. The type of painkiller prescribed depends on the severity of the pain. For early disease with mild and occasional pain, simple painkillers such as paracetamol (Panadol®) can be effective, although more severe pain may require the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) for relief. Analgesic (painkillers) creams and adhesive patches can also be used.
Glucosamine, with or without chondroitin, has also become a popular drug treatment in recent years. It can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription.
However, it is ineffective in many patients, especially those with severe OA. The duration of its symptomatic relief also tends to be temporary. There is no evidence that glucosamine or chondroitin is able to result in cartilage repair.
For the treatment of OA, your doctor may sometimes recommend a steroid injection into or around the joint if you have not responded to conservative treatment indicated above. While pain relief can be impressive, it is usually only temporary, and your doctor will limit the number of steroid injections that you can receive as repetitive injections can weaken tendons further worsening the already damaged cartilage.
Surgery is usually only offered for severe disease that has not responded to conservative treatments mentioned. Both the type of surgery and the decision for surgery are made following careful discussions between you and your doctor.
For many joints in the hands, arthodesis or fusion of the joint is the method of choice. In joint fusion, the arthritic surface is removed and bones on either side of the joint are fused to eliminate movement from the problem joint.
There may be some loss of movement but the pain ablation and stability may functionally improve the joint that is severely affected by the degenerative joint disease.
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