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February 20, 2008 > On the Horizon: Improved Treatment for Osteoarthritis

On the Horizon: Improved Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Learn More About Osteoarthritis Treatment Options at Upcoming Seminar

Forty-six million Americans - about one in five adults - suffer from arthritis or chronic joint symptoms. This is according to the Arthritis Foundation, which also reports "arthritis is one of the most prevalent chronic health problems and the nation's leading cause of disability among Americans over age 15."

As our population ages, more people are at risk of suffering from the painful and disabling affects of arthritis, which includes osteoarthritis, the most common form of the disease. Currently, more than 20 million Americans have osteoarthritis, a condition that usually comes on gradually in people over 40. The cause of osteoarthritis is unknown; and, at this time, there is no known cure.

Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage - a hard, slippery tissue covering the ends of the bones - breaks down and wears away. With healthy cartilage, bones in the joints glide over one another and the energy from the shock of physical movement is absorbed. When the surface layer of cartilage deteriorates, bone rubs against bone, resulting in pain, swelling and loss of motion in the joint.

The most commonly affected joints are the knees and hips, as well as those in the hands and spine.

"Half of Americans with arthritis don't think anything can be done to help them," the Arthritis Foundation adds.

And yet, physicians, therapists and other health care experts are working every day, treating the disease to relieve symptoms, manage pain and improve joint function. At the same time, researchers are studying ways to make treatment more effective.

"This month, the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) is coming out with new, evidence-based guidelines on treatment options and medical interventions that should further improve outcomes for people with osteoarthritis," reports Barry Shibuya, M.D., a Fremont rheumatologist and a member of the medical staff at Washington Hospital.

On Thursday, February 28 at 1 p.m., Dr. Shibuya will present a seminar on osteoarthritis, its possible causes and available treatment options. The event is free and open to the public as part of Washington Hospital's Health & Wellness program of community classes and seminars. It will be held at the Conference Center adjacent to the Nakamura Clinic in Union City. For details and registration, call Health Connection at (800) 963-7070 or register online at

"We manage osteoarthritis with pain medications, cortisone injections, physical therapy, muscle strengthening and techniques to decrease repetitive stress on joints," states Dr. Shibuya. "Unfortunately, there are currently no medications that stop the progressive nature of the disease; however, our current therapies can slow the damage."

The OARSI treatment guidelines will assess different clinical studies related to treatment options and medical interventions. It will begin to standardize osteoarthritis treatments that have proven most effective.

"The real challenge once the OARSI report is published will be the dissemination of these treatment recommendations to the millions of people living with osteoarthritis," says Dr. Shibuya.

"Finding an effective treatment regimen for individual osteoarthritis patients is difficult because each person responds differently to the various treatment approaches," he continues. "In many cases, it has been a matter of trying something to see if it works."

Currently, there is a wide range of options available to treat osteoarthritis. In addition to those mentioned by Dr. Shibuya, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) reports successful treatment programs involve exercise and weight control, as well as rest and relief from stress on the joints.

Research shows that exercise is one of the best treatments for osteoarthritis," states NIAMS. "It can improve mood and outlook, decrease pain, increase flexibility, strengthen the heart and improve blood flow, maintain weight and promote general physical fitness."

Regular periods of rest can help lessen the pain of osteoarthritis, and getting the proper amount of sleep is also important. If joint pain makes it difficult to sleep or rest, a doctor should be consulted.

Some people with osteoarthritis use a cane to take the pressure off their joints or a splint or brace to provide extra support. Splints or braces should be recommended by a physician or occupational therapist, so they fit properly.

"Splints should only be used for limited periods of time, as the joint and muscles need to be exercised to prevent stiffness and weakness," NIAMS recommends.

In some cases, surgery can help relieve the pain and disability of osteoarthritis. In determining the need for surgery, doctors consider the patient's age, occupation, level of disability, intensity of pain, and the degree to which the condition interferes with his or her lifestyle.

The Washington Women's Center is now offering an arthritis exercise program designed exclusively for women with mild osteoporosis and arthritis. The next Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program will start on Monday, February 25. Classes meet twice a week (Mon & Wed) for six weeks. Openings for the 10:30 a.m. class are still available. Cost for the six-week program is $48. To enroll, contact Kathy Hesser, R.N., Washington Women's Center Coordinator at (510) 608-1356.

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