Understanding joint health can prevent and even improve arthritis

Atrophic arthritis x-ray showing marked atrophy, some destruction of bone and telescoping in some joints. (Photo by: American quarterly of roentgenology.)

Younger adults without arthritis can do a whole lot to prevent it, those living with arthritis can make adjustments — and those considering joint replacement surgery should be more curious about their treatment.

That’s advice from Dr. Michael Dohm, an orthopedic surgeon at Banner University Medical Center.

“Arthro means joint and itis means inflammation,” Dohm said. “You can get arthritis in any joint, but as far as surgeries go, 70 percent of them are for knee and hip replacements.”

This is because the knees and hips are the most weight-bearing joints in the body, he explained.

“That’s why younger people should know what good joint health is,” Dohm said. “Good nutrition helps. Avoiding carbonated beverages, caffeine and nicotine, which leach calcium from the body.”

This is no coincidence, since it has been shown that out of the millions of Americans living with arthritis, 49 percent have heart disease, 47 percent have diabetes and 31 percent are obese, according to the Arthritis Foundation. 

In fact, being even slightly overweight can increase exponentially the joint forces going through the weight-bearing joints, according to Dr. Lukas Tvedt of Athlon Physical Therapy.

“Arthritis might also be familial or genetic,” he said. “Or it might just be micro-traumas that happen over time. For example, someone who had an ACL surgery in their teens probably has a higher risk of incidents of arthritis down the road no matter what they do.”

Tvedt added that extreme obesity will start to cause degeneration of the hip joints. This dysfunction can predispose you to arthritis.

Dohm said younger people are able to mitigate these micro-traumas by making all-around healthier decisions in the kitchen and taking the time to work out on a regular basis since it promotes muscle strength and protects the joints.

“Paying attention to early supplementation of Vitamin D is also a good idea,” Dohm said. “You begin to lose calcium at age 35.”

A diagram showing a healthy knee joint and a knee joint with rheumatoid arthritis. (Photo by: A Lot About Health.)

But those living with arthritis in other joints can make similar exercise, nutritional and medicinal changes to try to mitigate the pain their arthritis is causing them.

“There are a lot of times where making proper changes can improve and resolve arthritis over time,” Dohm said. “It’s just a matter of doing the research. Taking the right medication can also help.”

For those considering joint replacement, taking the time to decide what’s best for their form of arthritis is important because there are so many elements and factors that go into a replacement, according to Dohm.

“There are lots of different ways to look at the primary problem,” he said.

Physical therapy, metal allergy testing and researching different forms of joint replacement surgery are good ways to identify what treatments might help people suffering from arthritis.

For example, in many cases, it is possible to do a partial knee replacement rather than a complete replacement, which is a more invasive procedure.

“Say it’s a problem with the ball (of the joint),” Dohm said. “There are some (surgeons) who just completely resurface the ball, but a newer idea is to do a small resurfacing of the socket and to put a cap at the end of the ball.”

This’s why, according to Dohm, patients should act more like the consumers that they are.

“Countless times, educated people come in wanting joint replacement surgery,” he said. “I recommend something, and they go with it. No questions asked.”

An audience finds their seats at Dr. Michael Dohm’s talk titled “Facts, Fads and Fiction About Joint Replacement Surgery” on April 4 at the Banner University Medical Center. (Photo by: Jessica Blackburn)

Rather than blindly trusting a physician, Dohm recommends asking questions regarding a surgeon’s experience, surgery time, recovery time and what components will be involved with the replacement.

Tvedt also noted that physical therapy is equally as important after surgery as before surgery.

“After surgery, the pain you had before doesn’t just go away,” he said. “In fact, it’s typically magnified because of the trauma from the surgery, so getting back into physical therapy will allow for proper retraining of the muscles that have been traumatized.”

Not only should those with arthritis consider different forms of treatment, but also the cost of treatment as well.

According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Health of America Report, the same knee-replacement procedure “could cost as little as $11,327 in Birmingham, Alabama, and as much as $73,987 in Boston, Massachusetts.”

According to Dohm, by asking questions and doing research, those suffering from arthritis, or any other medical condition, for that matter, will find the ideal treatment at the right price for them.

Jessica Blackburn is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at blackburnj3@email.arizona.edu. 

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

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