If you suffer with sharp or aching pains in your knee caused by arthritis, it wouldn’t be surprising to find the condition can lead to a blue mood. But now new research shows the pain trigger might actually work the other way around. The study finds that depression can actually worsen the pain caused from knee arthritis.
Here’s how the study worked: South Korean researchers used X-rays to rate the pain level of knee osteoarthritis in 660 men and women, aged 65 and older. At the same time, the patients were assessed for the severity of their symptoms along with signs of depression.
As expected, levels of pain were highest in patients with X-rays showing the most joint damage. But what surprised the researchers was their finding that depression was associated with an increase in pain in patients with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis--even when significant joint damage was not evident in the X-ray image. The findings are published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.
The results of this study indicate that depression can play a major role in the way patients experience the knee arthritis, and that even when X-rays show the arthritis is not severe, patients with depression may report significant pain. The researchers concluded that the relationship between pain and depression should be considered by physicians when treating patients with knee osteoarthritis, even when X-rays don’t show severe damage to the knee joint.
It’s also important to note that according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, depression often goes undiagnosed in the elderly. In cases where the actual arthritis X-ray shows a mild case of knee arthritis, antidepressants like Paxil or Effexor may well help relieve the depressive symptoms that could cause a patient to experience more pain than they should be feeling. Speak with your doctor about options. Antidepressants can have severe side effects.
And they’re not your only alternative. Some simple ways to treat knee pain without medication or surgery:
Cut back on any activities that aggravate the pain in your knee. Whenever possible, use an elevator or an escalator instead of stairs, and avoid long walks that leave you in pain. But “saving the joint” by becoming totally sedentary will not slow down the arthritis. Remain as active as your pain will comfortably allow. Being totally sedentary leads to a loss of muscle and bone strength.
Use a cane. It’s an effective pain-reliever for knee arthritis. Hold the cane in the opposite hand – and with the opposite hand -- from the side with the knee problem and make sure the cane is the correct height for you. Have a professional check it out.
Lose some pounds. It will probably decrease your pain if you're overweight. But weight reduction alone is unlikely to relieve the pain completely.
Think about having gold injections. But the risk/benefit ratio is c omplicated, and thetreatment should be given only under the supervision of a rheumatologist.
Cortisone injection. The symptoms of mild and moderate degrees of arthritis frequently improve with the injection of cortisone into the joint. This is not recommended more than once every two to three months or so if it works. The amount needed is very small and side effects are rare or minor. The more advanced the arthritic damage, the less likely cortisone is to be beneficial.
Try bandages and shoes with low wedges. They've been shown to be helpful in some cases. An ace bandage may help to control swelling of the joint and can give you a psychological boost as well.
Robin Westen is ThirdAge’s medical reporter. Check for her daily updates.
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