Painkillers Are Not the Only Way to Reduce Joint Pain
There are a number of possible explanations for joint pain, of which the most common is osteoarthritis. This is a progressive, degenerative condition in which the layer of cartilage normally covering and protecting the articulating surfaces between adjacent bones becomes eroded. Instead of gliding smoothly over one another, as when flexing a healthy knee, elbow, or shoulder, the repeated movement of bone against bone can result in further damage, releasing fragments of bone and cartilage into the lubricating synovial fluid, eventually with painful consequences. Once almost exclusively a complication of old age, the incidence of osteoarthritis in younger subjects has been increasing steadily in recent years.
Accidents and sporting injuries are probably the next most common reasons for a patient to present with joint pain and, as is often the case with osteoarthritis, these injuries may also be accompanied by varying degrees of diminished mobility. While administering a suitably strong painkiller or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory might appear to be the obvious course of action in such cases, a few sessions of appropriate treatment by a physiotherapist can often be a very effective way to augment such treatment and, in some cases, even to provide an alternative.
Before proceeding, the physiotherapist who, in South Africa, must be a registered healthcare professional, with at least a bachelor’s degree, will perform a thorough assessment. This will consist of both questions about symptoms and a physical examination of whichever joint is affected by pain. Based upon the information obtained, he or she will then be able to decide upon the most appropriate form of treatment to apply.
As a rule, the course of treatment prescribed will consist of several distinct components. It may, for example, include a programme of exercise designed specifically to strengthen the supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments associated with whatever joint happens to be affected. The therapist will also offer advice on how to best increase a patient’s level of activity without the risk of injury that might serve to exacerbate his or her joint pain.
While the treatment programme will not employ prescription drugs for this purpose, it is likely to provide pain-relief by some alternative means. This could simply involve the application of heat, ice packs, massage, or manual manipulation to the affected area. On the other hand, the therapist may consider the use of more advanced treatments, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS, to be a better option in some circumstances. Where these may prove to be of value, splints or walking aids to help maintain mobility and independence may also form part of a typical comprehensive programme provided by a physiotherapist to treat joint pain.