Osteoarthritis (OA), degenerative arthritis, is one of the most common causes of chronic pain in adults worldwide. More than 30 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from OA, which can affect any movable joint, including the ankle, knee, hip, hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder. It causes the cartilage that cushions joints to lose elasticity and wear away in places. This makes the bones rub together, causing pain, stiffness and swelling.
Signs You Should Get Help for Osteoarthritis
See your primary care doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Persistent joint pain
- Significant swelling
- Painful stiffness
- Joint pain at night
- Pain during routine activities
If you have osteoarthritis, you might be referred to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. Rheumatologists at Rush have extensive experience diagnosing and treating osteoarthritis. Their goal is to treat you in ways that improve your mobility and control your pain.
Osteoarthritis Treatment at Rush
The good news is that osteoarthritis progresses slowly over many years. So if you get treatment early, you can keep it at a certain state so it doesn’t progress and become worse.
We'll work with you to create a personalized plan for your osteoarthritis that is tailored to your lifestyle and health needs. Treatment may include one or more of the following:
- Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medicines, corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation, and hyaluronic acid injections to lubricate your joints
- Heat or ice
- Nutritional counseling: Our clinical dietitians will help you develop a sensible nutrition plan that includes how to maintain a healthy weight and eat foods that strengthen bones and lessen inflammation.
- Physical therapy and/or occupational therapy: Our therapists work with you to help you regain your strength and mobility, as well as perform daily activities. This can include stretching exercises to increase your flexibility and decrease pain and stiffness; strength training to maintain muscle strength and support and protect joints; customized splints to support your hands and wrists; and tips on overcoming the daily challenges of living with chronic osteoarthritis.
- Acupuncture: Licensed acupuncture therapists can reduce your pain by inserting fine needles into the skin at specific points on your body.
- Injections: Injections, including corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid, stem cells and platelet-rich plasma, may help to temporarily reduce inflammation and pain, and improve function.
If nonsurgical treatments are not working, you may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss surgery. The different types of surgery include:
- Cartilage restoration: Rush orthopedic surgeons perform a variety of techniques to repair or replace damaged cartilage before more advanced deterioration occurs. This can help delay or prevent the need for joint replacement surgery in young, active patients.
- Arthroscopy: Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive orthopedic surgery used to diagnose and treat osteoarthritis of the knee, shoulder, hip, elbow, wrist and ankle joints. It is an alternative to standard open surgery, which requires larger incisions. This approach results in less swelling and pain, lower risk of surgical complications, faster return to normal activities, and it can almost always be done in an outpatient setting
- Arthrodesis (also known as joint fusion): Joint fusion is a procedure that involves removing damaged joints and fusing your bones together. It is most often used in the ankles and wrists, but can be performed on other joints.
- Osteotomy: Osteotomy is a surgical procedure that involves cutting a bone to reshape it (shorten, lengthen or realign). It is used to correct deformities of the feet (bunions), hips, knees and legs, as well as to straighten bones that don’t heal properly after a fracture. Orthopedic surgeons may do an osteotomy to relieve pain caused by hip or knee osteoarthritis, especially in younger patients.
- Joint replacement: If you've tried all other treatments and are still in pain, joint replacement may be your best option. Replacing a damaged joint with an artificial one can effectively relieve pain and improve mobility.
Rush Excellence in Osteoarthritis Care
- Nationally recognized for excellence: You may receive care from our world-class orthopedic specialists for your osteoarthritis care. And you'll be in good hands. U.S. News & World Report ranked Rush University Medical Center No. 8 in the nation for orthopedics.
- Infusion and injection services: Many osteoarthritis medications are given either via an IV or through subcutaneous injection (under the skin). Our highly trained nurses administer these shots and IV treatments, ensuring that you receive your medications safely and effectively.
- Minimally invasive surgery: Whenever possible, our surgeons use minimally invasive approaches, which means smaller incisions, less pain and shorter hospital stays compared to traditional surgery.
- Access to clinical trials: Because our osteoarthritis providers are also researchers, we offer a wide range of clinical trials. So you'll have access to treatments you might not find elsewhere. For example, Rush orthopedic surgeons are studying the use of stem cells to treat osteoarthritis. Another study is testing whether a pressure-detecting shoe insole can help people with knee osteoarthritis walk in a way that reduces the strain on their knees — reducing pain and improving function.