Controlling Your Osteoarthritis

The Centers for Disease Control report that 50% of adults aged 65 and older have been diagnosed  with some form of arthritis. Arthritis is a disease that is characterized by inflammation of one or more joints and while there are many different kinds of arthritis, the most common form, and often presents later in life, is osteoarthritis, or “OA”.  With OA the components that cushion and lubricate the bones around a joint deteriorate over years and/or with injury, causing the bones to rub together.  This deterioration and constant rubbing causes inflammation, pain, swelling, limited mobility, and overall discomfort.  OA often affects joints like knees, hips, feet, hands and fingers, wrists, neck and spinal cord.  In its late stages, OA can be crippling.

The CDC also note that 37.7 percent of those adults with arthritis report that arthritis causes limitations on their activities, 31.2 percent say it causes limitations with working, and 25.6 percent report that their arthritis causes severe pain (seven or higher on a zero-10 point scale).

Individuals suffering with OA also suffer from medication side effects, sleeplessness, anemia and fatigue. Chronic pain and discomfort can also lead to depression, and irritability.   There is no cure for OA, but if you or a loved one suffer from OA, the following suggestions can help you control these often life-altering symptoms.



The pain associated with OA can range from mild to moderate and be manageable with medication and regular physical activity, or it can be so debilitating that any movement or pressure becomes nearly impossible. In severe cases, surgery to replace the damaged joint may be the only effective treatment.

Inflammation, Swelling and Stiffness

The body’s inflammatory response to OA causes joint fluid to collect in and around the affected joint, which increases swelling.  A joint that is inflamed becomes stiff.  Inflamed joints can feel especially stiff first thing in the morning, after exercise, or from prolonged inactivity.

How easily you can move an arm, leg, or other joint in different directions is an indication of that joint’s “range of motion”. If you have joint stiffness, your range of motion is limited. This stiffness may or may not cause pain, but makes movement a challenge.
Osteoarthritis “Flare”

An increase in inflammation, swelling and stiffness resulting in increased pain is known as a “flare”.  While flares are often unpredictable, painful and discouraging, they are temporary and do not mean you are failing to control your OA symptoms. When flares occur, apply cold packs and practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques.  You should also ask your doctor to increase your pain medications. Because flares are inevitable with OA, it is helpful to plan in advance for them, including your physician in this plan, so that you are prepared for the occurrence of a flare.


Anemia is a lack of red blood cells.  Anemia in OA can be a result of the disease process itself, when the proteins in the blood interfere with the production of red blood cells.  Anemia can also result from the use of anti-inflammatory medications leading to a peptic ulcer. Whatever the cause, anemia limits the oxygen carrying capacity of red blood cells and cause fatigue.


Managing the pain associated with OA can wear you down and cause fatigue.  This is often the most complex symptom of OA.  That fatigued feeling can worsen your pain, making it more of a challenge to manage, and turning it into a vicious cycle. There are many possible reasons for the fatigue. One is the disease process itself. The proteins in the blood that are released in the OA inflammatory process are the same proteins that are released when you have the flu or a cold. OA often results in sleeplessness due to waking with pain, causing daytime fatigue. Regardless of what triggers their release, the result is the same.  If the treatment of inflammation fails to relieve fatigue, your doctor should consider other causes of the fatigue; as it could be related to other symptoms of the disease, including anemia, depression, or medication side effects.



Often the first line of treatment for OA is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, also called NSAID’s.  This type of medications includes Ibuprofen or Motrin and Naproxen.  NSAID’s are used not only to alleviate pain, but also help to decrease the inflammation associated with OA.


Even though exercise can result in increased pain at times, your doctor will recommend consistent exercise.  Exercise not only helps improve range of motion, it keeps the joints flexible and the fluid moving. Tai Chi, Yoga, water exercise and walking are the low impact activities most often recommended. If you are receiving home care, your homecare nurse or home health aide can assist in guiding you toward routine exercise.

Physical Therapy

Following an exercise plan implemented by your Physical Therapist is a critical part of maintaining flexibility and decreasing pain.  Because OA can affect everyone differently in different joints, a Physical Therapist can provide special adaptive exercises to improve the range of motion and flexibility in specific joints.  If you choose to have your therapist come to the home, homecare agency physical therapists are a great alternative to outpatient therapy care and can provide specific treatment prescribed by your physician.

Corticosteroid Injections

Physicians will often recommend injections into the affected joint.  These injections consist of corticosteroids and reduce inflammation and pain in the specific targeted joint.

Full Joint Replacement

While surgery is often the only alternative for some people with chronic pain and degeneration, replacing the damaged joint with a plastic or metal prosthesis often allows the person to return to a pain-free life.  Keep in mind, recovery is often long and can cause complications that are not associated with other non-invasive alternatives.

To learn more about caring for seniors with arthritis, please call Nightingale Homecare at (602) 504-1555 or Contact Us. As top-rated home care provider in the Phoenix metropolitan area, we are be happy to answer your questions about our services and how we can help you with our experienced caregivers and elderly home care programs.