You expect aches and pains with aging. In fact, even younger people know
that sports or work-related injuries can cause painful, swollen joints.
When the symptoms of osteoarthritis interfere with staying fit or daily
chores, it’s time to seek help.
“Osteoarthritis is progressive; how you manage it is key,” says
Gregory R. Kelley, M.D., a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at
Summit Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery. Kelley helps prevent, diagnose and treat disabling musculoskeletal diseases,
injuries and disorders. Drawing on his multidisciplinary skill set, he
improves mobility, function and quality of life for people of all ages.
Focusing on Patients
“The first thing I ask patients is, ‘How does osteoarthritis
affect your overall function and well-being?’” He also asks
patients if they might be doing anything in work or sports to aggravate
their arthritis. After evaluating a patient’s limitations and needs,
he may utilize radiologic and other imaging modalities to diagnose and
grade the severity of abnormalities within the joint.
Slowing the Progression
Kelley believes in starting with conservative, non-surgical approaches.
“I treat osteoarthritis from several different perspectives.”
Physical therapy is one of his preferred ways to slow the progression
of osteoarthritis. “Guided exercise including proper stretching
and active resistance creates muscular support that can offload pressure
around the joint.” Speaking of weight, many people reduce symptoms
simply by shedding excess pounds. An anti-inflammatory diet replacing
sugar, alcohol, red meat and refined foods with healthier options help
with weight-loss and may decrease inflammation that irritates osteoarthritis.
“Excess weight overloads a joint that’s already stressed,
especially weight-bearing joints like the ankle, knee and hip,”
In addition to physical therapy, he recommends regular exercise for lubricating
joints and enhancing strength and mobility. “We have to fight the
tendency to do less as osteoarthritis sets in. It’s important to
keep moving but if high impact exercise, such as running or jumping exercises,
aggravate the joint, you may want to limit these activities. Resistance
training is especially helpful,” explains Kelley
A Future Fountain of Youth?
Doctors who treat musculoskeletal problems are always looking for alternatives
to surgery, especially for people who can’t undergo surgery. While
Kelley performs a good deal of ultrasound-guided steroid injections to
alleviate arthritic symptoms, he’s especially excited about emerging
biologic medications. “Treatments such as prolotherapy and platelet-rich
plasma (PRP), as well as mesenchymal stem cells which can be harvested
from the patient’s own bone marrow or adipose tissue, can then be
injected to elicit cellular responses to promote healing. This may even
help restore worn cartilage and other damaged tissues within the joint;
however, more research is needed before these treatments become widespread
and covered by insurance.”
Biologic agents are available for those paying out of pocket, but steroid
injections are more commonly used, and typically covered by insurance.
Long-term use of steroids is not without risk, but Kelley says injections
are safe if doctors are “judicious with the frequency and dose.”
You can’t turn back the clock or undo the injury that caused your
osteoarthritis, but you can benefit from medical guidance. “If you’re
becoming limited in what you can do, don’t wait – see a musculoskeletal
physician,” says Kelley.