What are Non-surgical Treatments for Joint Pain?

Non-Surgery Orthopedic Care

Whether your bone or joint pain is due to an injury, arthritis, or just common wear and tear, it’s reassuring to know that not all orthopedic conditions require surgery. There are many conservative treatments, such as medication and physical therapy, that can reduce pain and swelling. Often, your primary care physician will recommend trying these treatments for several weeks. If they don’t help your condition, you may them be referred to an orthopedic surgeon to evaluate your surgical options.

Orthopedic surgeons also will take a closer look at your condition—often using imaging tests—and may recommend further non-surgical treatments, such as steroid injections.

Oral Medications: Most orthopedic pain is caused by inflammation of the ligaments, tendons, muscle, or other soft tissue. Sometimes that inflammation can result in nerve-related pain as well. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen) can reduce swelling. Managing pain with over-the-counter or prescription painkillers is important to help you sleep and be more mobile. However, these medications will mainly mask the pain, not improve your underlying condition. For neuropathic (nerve) pain, your physician may prescribe an anticonvulsant such as gabapentin.

Topical Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories also can be applied topically. Creams that contain capsaicin, which is derived from red chili peppers, also can serve as an analgesic.

Steroid Injections: Corticosteroids, like prednisone, can be injected directly into an affected joint to provide more long-term relief for four to six months. These are most typically used in the knee, hip, ankle, elbow, wrist, and shoulder, but also provide some relief for smaller joints in the hands and feet. The injections are effective for arthritis-related pain and swelling as well as bursitis, tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis. However, due to side effects of steroids, the number of injections is limited.

Physical Therapy: In most cases of orthopedic pain, physical therapy can reduce or eliminate the problem. It’s also often used in conjunction with other treatments, such as medications or injections, or after surgery. A typical physical therapy session for orthopedic pain or injury may include assessments (balance, gait, strength, swelling), splinting or taping, icing, massage, strengthening and range-of-motion exercises, aquatic therapy, myofascial release, ultrasound, and electric stimulation. Your physician and therapist will work with you to determine the most beneficial frequency and duration for your physical therapy treatments.

Learn more about Penn Highlands Healthcare Physical Therapy Services.

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