Arthritis: Don't let it keep you down
Dan Bates / The Herald
Mike McGinnis, 76, of Marysville brings a fresh sense of humor to his peer group meeting of seniors at Group Health Everett with Dr. Eugene Ocampo, his medical assistant, Lynne Kramer; social worker, Estee Carton-Bozzi; and RN Erika Skovron. Twenty seniors participated in the lively meeting, which included some good laughs.
Dan Bates / The Herald
Social worker Estee Carton-Bozzi of Everett Group Health responds to comments from seniors Thursday at a peer group meeting that is overseen by Dr. Eugene Ocampo.
Dan Bates / The Herald
Dr. Eugene Ocampo from Group Health Everett Medical Center smiles during a Senior Group meeting, where people can ask questions of medical professionals. Arthritis is a common topic at the meetings.
"It got to the point when I was 50 years old that, walking down the hallway, I was so leaned over that I looked like Quasimodo (the Hunchback of Notre Dame)," says the 72-year-old Kopay.
He has arthritis in his knees, hips and shoulders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 million adults in the United States have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, more than one in five adults.
Individuals, such as athletes, whose joints have sustained prolonged impact and injury are five times more likely to suffer from severe arthritis, but the reality is that any adult 60 years and older is at high risk for arthritis.
"The type of arthritis that affects most people is osteoarthritis and there isn't a known cause, but the older you are, the more likely you are to have it," says Dr. Michael Codsi, orthopedic surgeon at The Everett Clinic.
Arthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. Cartilage provides a smooth surface for bones to move against one another. As cartilage wears away, bones rub together like sandpaper. Common locations are in the finger joints, hips, knees and spine, with swelling, loss of mobility and pain.
"It's one of the most humbling diseases we face because there is no cure," says Dr. Eugene Ocampo, who focuses on geriatric medicine at Group Health Everett Medical Center.
Despite its prevalence and much research, there are no groundbreaking, revelatory treatments.
"It's pretty much more of the same. It's all about concentrating on the fundamentals," Ocampo says.
While arthritis cannot be cured, it can be managed. Doctors are redoubling efforts to encourage patients to use tried-and-true methods to alleviate pain.
"It's a use-it-or-lose-it situation. If you don't take care of yourself it only worsens," Ocampo says.
The less individuals move, the more muscles atrophy, causing joints to lose stability and allowing arthritis to progress faster.
"The main thing is to keep the joints moving," Codsi says.
Patients do not have to run a marathon to reap benefits. Walking, swimming and simply continuing routine activities, such as gardening, are beneficial.
"Yoga and pilates are also great because they're low-impact and focus on stretching the joints," Codsi says.
"Plus, no one likes to hear that they need to lose weight, but it's key," he says.
A knee, when extended, bears the pressure of four times an individual's body weight. For someone 100 pounds overweight, that translates to an extra 400 pounds burdening the joint, which is disastrous for arthritis.
Ocampo has seen patients in their 40s already suffering from acute arthritis because of obesity.
Prescription medications are sometimes warranted, but there is no magic pill. Over-the-counter medications, such as Advil and Tylenol, are useful to treat flareups, but many doctors caution against continuous use.
"Every medicine has a side effect," Codsi said.
However, some preliminary studies indicate that supplements, such as glucosamine -- a basic molecular building block of cartilage -- are beneficial.
"There is really no risk in trying it for a few months to see if it helps," Codsi sayd.
Individuals with arthritis often need to moderate their normal activity levels -- taking more breaks while doing yard work or housecleaning -- so they do not exacerbate symptoms. However, Ocampo encourages patients to push themselves as much as possible.
"People should do as much as they can tolerate. If you yield to the pain, it can also become an uphill battle psychologically," he says.
The potential loss of mobility can become isolating. For the past five years, Ocampo has hosted twice-monthly Senior Groups. A total of of 50 people gather to ask questions of medical professionals and exchange ideas. Arthritis has been a repeated topic.
"I think just about everybody of senior citizen age has some sort of arthritis," says Lynne Kramer, a certified medical assistant who helps facilitate the groups. "The meetings give a chance for people to exchange ideas and tips."
Kopay ultimately needed surgery to help get him back on track, but he is now happily maintaining his progress the old-fashioned way -- exercise and soaking in the hot tub.
"I'm just happy to be out working outside around my property again," he says. "It's very therapeutic for me."
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