In addition to the treatments discussed in the first four pages of this article, many patients with osteoarthritis and degenerative discs report that some or all of the following treatments are beneficial to managing the level of pain from their condition.
For chronic symptoms or to provide relief from severe episodes of pain from osteoarthritis in the neck or lower back, manipulation (such as chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation) may be recommended.
The philosophy for manipulations is that joint dysfunction in the spine can produce pain, and mobilizing the spine joints through manipulations (also called adjustments) can decrease that pain.
Since osteoarthritis is a joint dysfunction, it may respond well to mobilization. Manipulation is most often performed by a chiropractor, doctor of osteopathic medicine or a properly trained and licensed physical therapist. A less forceful kind of manipulation, called traction, may also be used, e.g., gravity traction using adjusting blocks.
Therapeutic massage can help reduce osteoarthritis pain and improve circulation. It can also be helpful in reducing stress and muscle tension. However, but it is important to find a professional who is specifically trained in treating people with arthritis.
For more information, see the Massage Therapy Health Center
Relaxation and stress management techniques can help a patient learn how to reduce muscle tension thereby reducing pain, and there are other cognitive and behavioral techniques that also teach the patient how to control their own pain.
Examples of proven techniques that help to manage stress and relaxation include controlled breathing, meditation, biofeedback, and self hypnosis.
See Chronic Pain Coping Techniques to learn more about relaxation techniques
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This type of therapy uses small amounts of electricity to reduce sensitivity of nerves around the spine. The treatment has few side effects and is non-invasive; however not all patients receive pain relief. Typically, a physical therapist or a physiatrist will prescribe TENS units and instruct that patient on the proper use.
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This technique involves inserting ultra-fine needles at specific points on the skin. Most people report a tingling sensation, feeling relaxed or even energized. Some people have found acupuncture helpful for their osteoarthritis pain, and the NIH has found it useful as a treatment for low back pain and many other conditions including osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture is considered a safe medical treatment. For this reason, many physicians and practitioners believe that acupuncture is a beneficial treatment as an adjunct to other medical treatments, and/or as an alternative to medical treatments. In certain situations, acupuncture may be used in combination with conventional painkillers, or to replace them all together.
There is a range of supportive devices that may be prescribed to provide additional support for the back and to help reduce arthritis pain by limiting motion in the back and taking some pressure off the vertebrae. Spinal bracing may involve a neck collar or lumbar corset.
Other assistive devices may include canes or walkers to help the patient move around easier and with less pain. Physical therapists can recommend appropriate support devices. An occupational therapist may be consulted to identify additional devices that may help patients to better function at home and/or at work. Prolonged use of these support devices will cause additional muscle weakness, so patients should use these only as directed by a medical professional.
Maintaining an Appropriate Weight
Patients with osteoarthritis of the spine who are overweight or obese will benefit from losing excess weight. When appropriate, weight loss can greatly reduce stress on weight-bearing joints and limit further joint injury.
Weight control during middle age years can also help prevent the onset of osteoarthritis in later years. A healthy diet and regular exercise are needed to help reduce weight. A dietitian can help patients develop a healthy eating program that will help them lose excess weight and maintain the appropriate weight and mix of nutrients needed over the long term. Active exercise, which burns more calories, also assists with weight loss.
Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle
One of the most important things a patient can do is take care of oneself and adopt overall healthy lifestyle habits. Examples of specific healthy lifestyle habits include: getting proper amounts of rest, limiting alcohol and caffeine, not smoking, managing stress, and using good body mechanics for everyday activities (such as carrying a backpack instead of a purse and lifting with the legs instead of the back).
It is advisable to consult a doctor about lifestyle habits and recommendations and about programs designed to develop and reinforce these good habits.
There is a range of other remedies that may be discussed in relation to osteoarthritis, such as wearing copper bracelets, drinking herbal teas, or taking mud baths. However, no scientific research to date shows these approaches helpful in treating osteoarthritis.
The majority of the treatment options reviewed in this article are also the treatment options for symptomatic degenerative disc disease. This is because both osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease represent a painful motion segment in the spine.