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Not Ready for Joint Replacement Surgery? Try These Conservative Treatments for Joint Pain

October 16, 2023

You do you. That’s good advice in life, and in arthritis. Not everyone needs or wants joint replacement surgery — especially right away. If that’s you, you’re in luck: Most conservative treatments for joint pain start right at home.

“The most impactful non-invasive treatments for joint pain are lifestyle changes,” says Mark Shekhman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Bone & Joint Institute at Hartford Hospital.

Here’s what to try.

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1. Reach a healthy weight.

Yes, we’re aware this is easier said than done, especially when it comes to weight loss. But it’s at the top of the list for a reason. Less weight means less pressure on joints. That equals less pain — not to mention less wear and tear.

“A healthy weight is the single most important thing anyone can do for themselves to keep their joints healthy, or stop them from getting worse,” says Dr. Shekhman.

If you need support, a bariatrics or nutrition expert can help.

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2. Rethink what you eat.

Obviously, this can go a long way toward weight goals. But that’s not the only reason to focus on nutrition. Certain foods directly help your joints.

“Choose low-inflammation foods that reduce swelling and pain,” says Dr. Shekhman. Think: fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables, beans.

The Mediterranean diet is a great place to start, because it incorporates all of the above. Aim for quality ingredients, and make sure you’re consuming the correct amount of daily calories.

> Related: And the Healthiest Diet of 2023 Is….

3. Add low-impact exercise.

Even a little goes a very long way. Gentle exercise works the muscles around your joints, keeps everything moving properly, lubricates joint cartilage, and more. Right away, you’ll notice less stiffness, swelling and pain.

“Even just a daily walk around the neighborhood will make you feel better,” says Dr. Shekhman.

To double down on this goal, work with a physical therapist on specific stretches and exercises.

> Related: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Before Your Hip or Knee Replacement

4. Drink less, and smoke never.

Along with their toll on overall health, alcohol and smoking are directly linked to joint pain. Alcohol robs your body of water and nutrients, which makes inflammation go up — and with it, pain. Tobacco smoke also triggers inflammation, and its toxins seem to contribute to cartilage loss.

As if you needed more reasons to quit.

“These are called ‘modifiable’ risk factors, because a person can actively try to change them,” says Dr. Shekhman. For support, reach out to an addition medicine specialist.

5. Ask your doctor about joint injections.

If you’re making progress on lifestyle changes, and want another non-surgical option, talk to your doctor about steroid injections. They temporarily decrease joint inflammation and pain, usually lasting one to three months.

But injections aren’t a forever fix. Once you’re at this point, try to keep an open mind about joint replacement surgery too.

“If you return for endless injections for pain relief, or ignore the problem for a long time, it can lead to joint damage that’s very difficult to fix, or even increase your risk of complications,” says Dr. Shekhman. “Moving onto surgical options might be safer. Your orthopedic specialist can guide you appropriately.”

Think of it as just one more option for you to do you — ideally, with a lot less pain.