Americans have 640,000 knee replacement surgeries each year. This number has doubled since 2000. This is because more people with less severe osteoarthritis are getting new knees.1
But a new study reveals that the vast majority of patients see no real improvement in quality of life after having the surgery.
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, followed 7,500 knee patients. The subjects were 45 to 79 years old.
Researchers used a standard test called the S-12 to gauge quality of life. It looks at physical and mental functioning. They gave the assessment to patients for up to nine years after surgery.
Overall, the study found only “small changes” in quality of life scores after the surgery. The reason many people get knee replacements is to reduce pain. That’s why it was surprising that many of them still needed pain medication after the procedure. Reduction in pain drugs was “small,” the study concluded.
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Patients with the most severe knee osteoarthritis and most limited movement were the ones who improved the most after surgery.2
Dr. Bart Ferket is an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health Science and Policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He led the study.
Dr. Ferket said the study shows people with mild or moderate knee osteoarthritis should think twice before getting knee replacement. “Given its limited effectiveness in individuals with less severely affected physical function, performance of total knee replacement in these patients seems to be economically unjustifiable,” He said.3
The study was recently published in the British Medical Journal.
Exercise Lessens Osteoarthritis Pain
People with osteoarthritis often stay away from exercise fearing it will increase their pain. But studies show the exact opposite is true.
Exercise is considered the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in osteoarthritis. Two kinds of exercise have shown the most benefit to osteoarthritis sufferers:4
Range of motion/flexibility: This refers to the ability to move your joints through the full range of motion. When you have osteoarthritis, pain and stiffness make it very difficult to move certain joints more than just a little bit. This can make even the simplest tasks challenging.
Gentle stretching and movements that take joints through their full range of motion can improve flexibility.
A study at Tufts University found the centuries-old Chinese practice of tai chi works better than standard stretching exercises for severe knee osteoarthritis. Subjects did tai chi twice a week for one hour. In only three months patients had a threefold improvement in physical functioning and pain.
Strength: These exercises help improve your muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect joints that are affected by arthritis. By lessening the stress on the joints, you can reduce pain.
Use free weights, resistance bands, weight machines, push-ups…any exercise that causes muscle fatigue. Start slow, using light weights and low repetitions. Slowly build to a more strenuous workout.
Exercise can also help you lose weight, which can dramatically ease knee pain. For every extra pound you carry, your knees gain three pounds of added stress.5
Speak with your doctor or physical therapist about exercising with osteoarthritis and the specific exercises that are best for you.
3 Natural Pain Killers
You might already be on medication to ease your osteoarthritis pain. But there are natural alternatives that offer relief—without the risk of side effects:
Curcumin: It’s a natural substance found in turmeric, a spice popular in Indian cuisine. Curcumin has proven—potent—anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties.
A 2012 study compared curcumin’s effectiveness to NSAIDs. Curcumin was found to be better at alleviating rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. No adverse side effects were reported. Take a 400-600 mg supplement once a day.6
Olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) contains large amounts of the natural compound oleocanthal. It obstructs the inflammatory enzymes COX-1 and COX-2, just like ibuprofen… Except olive oil doesn’t have the potential for nasty side effects.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry looked specifically at the benefits of oleocanthal for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Researchers found it significantly reduced inflammation.
The scientists noted that 3 ½ tablespoons of EVOO is equal to a 200-mg tablet of ibuprofen for reducing inflammation.7 Simply drink it straight or add EVOO to foods. But don’t heat it above 410 degrees. This will destroy some of the oleocanthal.
White willow bark: It’s the original aspirin. Way back in 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about the pain-relieving powers of white willow bark. It contains salicin. This is a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).
Like aspirin, white will bark relieves pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis. It also treats headache, lower back pain, menstrual cramps, tendonitis, and bursitis.8 And unlike aspirin, it rarely causes stomach upset or bleeding. White willow bark is widely available at health food stories and online.
One precaution: Like aspirin, it is a blood thinner. If you take blood-thinning drugs, white willow bark may strengthen the effect.
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