By Robert M. Shalvoy, MD, executive chief of orthopedics and sports medicine, Care New England Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine

May is National Arthritis Month, a time when we recognize a disease that impacts more than 50 million Americans, making it the number one cause of disability in the country. While there are different types of arthritis, the most common is osteoarthritis, or osteoarthrosis, a degenerative joint disease which is diagnosed more frequently in women and older adults. Osteoarthritis mostly affects cartilage, and is the deterioration of slippery tissue protecting the areas, and serving as a cushion between the joints where bones meet.

For those with osteoarthritis, that protective layer of healthy tissue becomes worn, causing the joint to lose its normal shape. Small deposits of bone, osteophytes, or bone spurs as they more commonly referred to, can form which may cause additional pain and damage.

Osteoarthritis may affect individuals differently; however people most commonly experience joint pain and stiffness in their fingers, neck, lower back, knees, and hips. The severity and level of discomfort can vary in each person. For some, the disease may progress quickly, while it can worsen gradually over years for others.

While an MRI or X-ray can determine for sure if you have osteoarthritis, there are some home remedies, and things you can do to provide relief from arthritis discomfort.

  • Diet and exercise: Losing weight (especially for arthritis in the knees) can aid in relief. Additionally, both strength training and low impact exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or water activities can increase endurance and strengthen the muscles around the joints by building stability.
  • Braces or shoe inserts. Protective hand, arm, or knee braces, and cushioned shoe inserts can help to absorb the shock of activity and stabilize the muscles around the affected area(s).
  • Hot and cold therapy: Applying heat to loosen joints, and ice to reduce swelling, may also temporarily alleviate discomfort.
  • Massage: Stimulating the muscles near the affected area(s) may help circulation and improve range of motion.

People with arthritis should talk to their physician to decide which treatment plan or prescribed medication is best for them.

Dr. Shalvoy is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. A member of the Care New England Medical Group, he serves as executive chief of orthopedics and sports medicine for Care New England. He specializes in computer-navigated ACL reconstruction, knee replacement, rotator cuff surgery and throwing injuries. For more information about Care New England and its orthopedic program, visit carenewengland.org/orthopedics.