cartilage, or the tissue that covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints, has worn away.
“Once it’s damaged and it’s gone, it’s gone for good,” Ritz remarked of articular cartilage, adding that there is no known cure for arthritis. “We can’t eliminate the arthritis once it’s there, but we can treat the symptoms to improve your quality of life.”
On a large television screen, he showed illustrations of normal hips and knees versus arthritic ones. In the normal knee, the top and bottom bones were aligned symmetrically with a gap between, showing cartilage. In the arthritic knee, the cartilage space was almost completely gone and the top bone was scraping against the bottom at an irregular angle.
He then went over the range of treatment options for arthritis sufferers. Some find that their pain is manageable by taking Tylenol or anti-inflammation drugs such as Ibuprofen. Others can see relief from physical therapy treatments that could reduce stiffness and keep the joints moving.
Another form of relief, for those with arthritis in the knees, can come by wearing a brace to help stabilize the knee. Steroid injections can help reduce inflammation and several types of injections are available, Ritz said, although long-term use can come with complications. Weight loss, he added, can be one of the greatest relievers of pain as even a slight loss of pounds can bring much less stress to joints.
“One of my philosophies is, if you can deal with it, deal with it,” Ritz said of finding ways to relieve arthritis pain. Still, he noted, many don’t find relief until they take more extreme measures.
Joint replacement surgery is considered when a patient’s pain isn’t lessened by other forms of treatment. Ritz remarked that patients often ask him if they need their joints replaced. “Only the patient can decide if it’s right for them, if the pain’s bad enough for surgery,” he said.
Ritz then showed two short videos, one showing an illustration of a knee replacement, the other of a hip replacement. Both showed how the bone would be cut to accommodate the insertion of the metal replacement parts. A typical hospital stay is three days after a joint replacement, followed by physical therapy and then a return to normal life.
Ritz reiterated to the group that dealing with arthritis varies from patient to patient and his specialty is helping patients find what works best for them. “Part of having arthritis is learning to live with arthritis,” he concluded. “You’ve got to learn to find your limits. You might walk a mile and your hip will feel great, but at a mile and a half it’s killing you. So we tell you, just walk a mile…. We try to help you live better.”