Mar 14, 2017

Tom: You have osteoarthritis? What can you do about that before you require a total joint replacement? We're going to talk about that next on Scope Radio.

Announcer: Access to our experts with in-depth information about the biggest health issues facing you today. "The Specialists" with Dr. Tom Miller is on The Scope.

Tom: I'm here with Dr. David Petron. He's a professor of sports medicine. He's a non-operative physician and he works in the Department of Orthopedics here at the university.

David, what options does one have, prior to a joint replacement, in order to treat that pain and dysfunction?

David: Well, ultimately, you want to try to stay away from a joint replacement obviously. And the thing that leads to that is osteoarthritis of the joint, most commonly weight-bearing joints like hip or knee. And a lot of people don't even know what osteoarthritis is, but it's generally the wearing out of articular cartilage, which is that smooth shiny cartilage at the end of bone. So it's more of a wear-and-tear process, and ultimately the joint narrows and you start to get bone spurs, and aching, and stiffness, and swelling. And then really what drives the patient to the doctor is pain.

Tom: Does everyone anticipate that type of wear and tear over their lives, or are just some people prone to that?

David: Some people are prone to it. So there is a genetic predisposition to it. But if you're overweight or you've had prior trauma, that also can predispose you to arthritis. But it's really insidious, so most people are surprised when I tell them they have arthritis because they didn't have an injury, and they said their knee just started hurting and swelling . . .

Tom: Slowly comes on, over time, and it's nagging. And after a while, they just can't take it anymore.

David: And finally they figure out, "Well, I can't run, anymore. I can't do the things I want to do, anymore, so I'm going to go see the doctor."

Tom: So, by that time, I'm assuming they've maybe tried some home therapies. They've taken over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, or Naprosyn, or even aspirin, and, at some point, maybe those aren't really cutting it and they're not able to do the things that they used to do. What do you offer them?

David: Well, there's really three things they can do that they can control themselves. One is to get the muscles around the joint as strong as possible. So if it's a knee, quadricep strengthening, and usually doing lower-impact activity.

Tom: So that improves function. Does it help with pain?

David: It does help with pain. So if they can increase strength, that helps the pain, really the muscles surrounding the joint are the shock absorber for the joint. So the stronger, the more balanced, the more strength you have, the less likely you are to have pain in that joint.

Tom: So first tip is physical therapy. That's the way to start. And don't go with the old adage, don't use the joint. You know, don't slack off. Don't rest the joint.

David: Well, exactly. That's when people get in a vicious cycle. It hurts, so they quit doing anything, so the joint stiffens. And because they're not doing anything, they gain weight, which makes the joint hurt more, and on and on it goes.

So really there are three things they can control: one, keeping the strength up, two, avoiding high-impact exercise, and the third thing is keeping your weight right.

Tom: Now, by high-impact exercise, I assume you're talking about running, jumping rope, skydiving?

David: Right. Lower-impact things are okay, so usually walking, which can . . . you know, there's some impact with that, but that's usually not too bad. But biking can be a really good exercise for it, or even weight-lifting. So it's usually the high energy things. So, like, if you jump even off the height off the stair step, that could hurt the knee. But if you slowly low that up by, like, getting out of a chair, that doesn't hurt the knee, and you build strength with it.

Tom: So how about running on a treadmill? So for people who like to run, and there are a lot of them, plenty of people don't bike and they love to run, I guess they could switch to swimming, but what about walking or running on a treadmill versus being outside?

David: Absolutely, that can be easier on it. And we actually have a running clinic at the Orthopedic Center, and we, a lot of times, evaluate runners and find that they can be putting too much stress on their quadriceps and not running enough out of their hamstring and their gluts. So they tend to over-stride, which makes them load up the quadricep, which puts more stress on the knee. So sometimes it's something as simple as learning how to run a little bit differently, a lot of time, shortening the stride, and having more of the energy through the gluts and through the hamstring.

Tom: So let's say that they do these things and they're very diligent about the physical therapy, and they lose weight, but they still have pain. What else can be done?

David: There's different injections that can be done. One of the things that can be done that's usually a short-term answer to the problem is a corticosteroid injection. But a lot of times, that can kind of reset the pain. So it can settle down inflammation and settle down the pain so that we can institute some of these other things that we're talking about.

Tom: Now, there are other things besides corticosteroid injections that you have used in the past, I think.

David: Right, there's something called viscosupplements which are more of a lubricant for the joints, so it's like . . .

Tom: Those 50 weight [inaudible 00:04:41].

David: Yeah, that's it. It has a thickness to it, and that's either in a series of one to three injections, and it kind of resets the environment of the joint so that the arthritis doesn't progress as quickly. So there's some evidence to suggest that it may slow down some of the progression of arthritis, but it certainly can help with the symptoms.

Tom: And how long can that effect last if it works?

David: That tends to last . . .

Tom: I guess the question might be: How many patients will respond to those viscous injections?

David: I would say, in general, the less advanced the arthritis is, the more likely it is to respond. So if somebody gets down to bone-on-bone, a lot of times I don't even try it, and that's when you start looking at surgical options. But if there's still some joint space left, then those patients can respond well to these injections.

Tom: That's the importance of getting in early and making correct diagnosis.

David: Right.

Tom: So with the corticosteroid injection, as well as the viscous injections, they last for a few months, and maybe longer in certain people. When can you repeat those, and how often can you repeat those injections if they work well?

David: Oh, that's a great question. With corticosteroids, kind of a general rule is I wouldn't do it more than about three times a year. With viscosupplements, insurance companies will cover that about every six months. So most people with viscosupplements, it lasts a little bit longer. And typically with a viscosupplement, it's usually a series of three injections. And with the first injection, we put a corticosteroid in with the viscosupplement. So you get kind of a quick onset of the corticosteroid and the longer lasting on set with the viscosupplement itself.

There's a couple other injections, too . . .

Tom: Yeah, let's talk about those.

David: . . . that can be done. One is called PRP, or platelet-rich plasma. And platelets have certain growth properties, healing properties, so we draw the patient's blood, spin it down, separate the platelets and inject that into the joint. And then I think a lot of people have probably heard about stem cells, and there's been a lot of publication about that. And I think if you think about it more as pain-relieving and maybe slowing down the progression of arthritis, rather than that it really heals or reconstitutes the joint, then stem cells can also be a good treatment for the joints.

Tom: Let's talk about the stem cell therapy for just a little bit. Now, is that obtained from the patient's own blood? And then, how do you do that?

David: There's different ways to obtain it. One is through bone marrow, so we do a bone marrow aspirate, usually out of the pelvis, which is a relatively pain-free procedure. Another way is derived from peripheral fat, so we can take fat cells and obtain the stem cells. And the third way, and this a little bit more controversial, but there's more and more amniotic stem cells that are out there. But there are some question about how many stem cells there really are, depending on how they're stored. A lot of times those are stored freeze-dried, and it's a little bit questionable on whether there's significant stem cells in that, or not. But there's no question that some of these amniotic stem cell treatments have helped patients, myself included, with arthritic pain.

Tom: That's great. You've listed a whole list of procedures and treatments that can perhaps delay and improve patients' function and decrease pain prior to considering a total joint replacement. I think the first thing you said is, one, be healthy, lose weight, and then keep fit, use a physical therapist to strengthen the ligaments and tendons, muscles around the joint. And then moving on from there, to seek a diagnosis early on so that certain therapies can be applied before things get to be too advanced, and then, you know, eventually you just have to move into a joint replacement.

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