Arthritis

Tai chi may be as good as physical therapy for arthritis-related knee pain

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Treatment options for osteoarthritis of the knee are limited, and many people turn to surgery as a last resort — so there’s a lot of interest in non-invasive treatments for this common condition. Researchers have just completed a head-to-head trial of standard physical therapy versus the traditional Chinese practice of tai chi, and they’ve found the latter is just as good as the former. If it’s something you’d like to try, go for it!

Physical therapy after hip replacement: Can rehab happen at home?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Hip replacement surgery is becoming increasingly common. After this type of surgery, people are required to undergo rehab to help them become stronger and steadier with their new joint. Traditionally, this has involved lots of back-and-forth to physical therapy appointments. But a new study suggests that many people may be able to do their exercises at home instead — with nearly identical results.

Is there a “best” pain reliever for osteoarthritis?

Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D.
Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D., Contributing Editor

Osteoarthritis can contribute significantly to a reduced quality of life, and many arthritis sufferers have come to rely on pain medication for symptom control. A recent study compared NSAIDs against opioids for pain relief and found no significant difference between them. But as always, the right treatment choice for any individual person depends on their unique medical situation and what works best for them.

The “right” goal when managing pain

Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D.
Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D., Contributing Editor

When it comes to pain management, focusing only on reducing the intensity of pain may lead to treatments that do as much harm as good. Ideally, pain-management plans should be tailored to each patient and include a range of therapies that not only reduce pain but also help improve pain-related quality-of-life problems.

Can the weather really worsen arthritis pain?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many arthritis sufferers notice a link between the weather and their symptoms. Research supports a connection, though the precise causes and effects aren’t clear. While there is little one can do to control the weather, there is a lot that can be done to relieve the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Don’t put up with arthritis symptoms in any weather — see your doctor to discuss treatment options.

Gout: Sleep apnea may raise your risk

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes people to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. It is linked to several chronic health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure. A recent study suggests that sleep apnea may also raise the risk for gout, a common form of inflammatory arthritis. This is just one more good reason to talk with your doctor if you have symptoms of sleep apnea (which include loud snoring and excessive sleepiness during the day).

Can depression worsen RA symptoms or make treatment less effective?

Bonnie Bermas, MD
Bonnie Bermas, MD, Contributing Editor

Depression is fairly common among people suffering with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Recent research suggests that depression may worsen RA symptoms and even make medications less effective. To date, the studies that indicate a connection between the severity of RA symptoms and depression have not been conclusive, so more research is needed. In the meantime, if you have RA and notice signs of depression, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Acupuncture for knee arthritis fails one test but may still be worth a try

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

A report published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association offers weak-to-no proof that acupuncture helps ease the pain of knee arthritis. In a group of older men and women with arthritis-related knee pain, Australian researchers compared traditional needle acupuncture against laser acupuncture, sham laser acupuncture, and no treatment. People who had needle or laser acupuncture reported slightly less pain and slightly better physical function compared with the group that had no treatment at all. Sham acupuncture worked as well as real acupuncture, suggesting the placebo effect may be at work.

Insoles no help for knee osteoarthritis

Stephanie Watson

Nearly a third of Americans will develop osteoarthritis of the knee before age 70. With no “cure” beside knee replacement on the horizon for this painful joint condition, relief often has to come from pain pills. Assistive devices such as wedge insoles are often prescribed as a less drastic, side effect-free treatment option. But do they really work? A review of research published today in JAMA indicates that these shoe inserts do little—if anything—to relieve arthritis pain. The findings echo new osteoarthritis treatment guidelines released by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) in May. Based on current research, the AAOS said it couldn’t recommend lateral wedge insoles for people with medial knee osteoarthritis.

Exercise is good, not bad, for arthritis

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

When pain strikes, it’s human nature to avoid doing things that aggravate it. That’s certainly the case for people with arthritis, many of whom tend to avoid exercise when a hip, knee, ankle or other joint hurts. Although that strategy seems to make sense, it may harm more than help. Taking a walk on most days of the week can actually ease arthritis pain and improve other symptoms. It’s also good for the heart, brain, and every other part of the body. Yet a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than half of people with arthritis don’t walk at all for exercise, and only 23% meet the current recommendation for activity—walking for at least 150 minutes a week. Walking is good exercise for people with arthritis, but it isn’t the only one. A review of the benefits of exercise for people with osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis) found that strength training, water-based exercise, and balance therapy were the most helpful for reducing pain and improving function.