One of the go-to methods of pain relief employed by the medical community today is opioid medication. This type of medication comes with serious risks of addiction, abuse and fatal overdose. What is more, they may not be very reliable methods of dealing with the pain caused by osteoarthritis.
In a 2014 Cochrane review, researchers analyzed the results of 22 studies into the use of opioid medications for the management of pain and physical function in patients with osteoarthritis. Overall, more than 8,000 participants were involved in these studies. The overall conclusion was that opioids had a small effect on pain and function. Specifically, researchers found that:
• 41% of study participants using opioids responded in terms of pain scores, compared to 31% of those who took a placebo
• 34% responded to opioid therapy in terms of physical function scores, compared to 26% of participants who took a placebo
• 22% of opioid users experienced side effects, compared to 15% of those who took a placebo
See more on the review at summaries.cochrane.org.
Given the risks associated with opioid medications, the small effect may warrant thinking twice before opting for this form of osteoarthritis management. There are natural methods patients can try which, while less studied, come with fewer risks.
Water unloads the body’s joints while providing lots of resistance against which to work the muscles and cardiovascular system. Strengthening the muscles around joints is an important component of osteoarthritis treatment, and regular exercise can help combat joint rigidity.
Not many studies have been done to confirm the effectiveness of aquatic exercise as a form of pain and disability management for patients with osteoarthritis. A review of six trials found small- to moderate effect on function, and small effect on pain. One of the trials yielded a large effect on pain scores for those exercising in water compared to participants performing land-based exercises. See more on the review at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
While the science is scant, it’s undoubtable that exercise is important for overall health. People with osteoarthritis may find exercise difficult given their painful joints, and water may make exercising easier. Many may be able to obtain free or low-cost access to a local pool, making this pain management option affordable and accessible.
Many types of topical creams and gels are available to patients looking for pain relief. Some contain medications, such as NSAIDs, while others rely on natural anti-inflammatories and/or capsaicin (the chemical in chili peppers) for pain relief or interruption. EFAC Pain Relieving Cream and Outback Pain Relief are two products that have high customer ratings on Amazon.com.
Be careful when purchasing a topical cream; those with medication in them come with many of the risks that oral medications do.
Natural methods of osteoarthritis treatment may be superior to opioids; at the very least, they tend to be safer. Know the risks and effectiveness rates of medications before taking them.