The earliest stages of arthritis are often so mild that the disease may go undiagnosed for quite a while. Yet, since the effects are degenerative, this “honeymoon” stage doesn’t last. As arthritis symptoms progress to moderate or severe, the treatments are broken into two categories, each of which has a different end goal for the patient.
In Stage I arthritis, there may be only minor discomfort to the patient, as well as limited physical evidence of the disease. The minimal effects of the disease at this stage place patients into the first category of treatment, which is largely preventative. The main goal at this point is to slow the disease’s progression, as well as decrease any symptomatic discomfort (that, too, is often mild in the earliest stages). Viscosupplementation is a good example of a Category 1 treatment, often in combination with platelet rich plasma therapy (PRP).
The second category of nonsurgical arthritis treatments is geared toward arthritis that has advanced far enough to result in some significant degradation of cartilage. Treatments at this stage are intended to promote joint health and healing, including cartilage replacement through stem cell therapy. As with viscosupplementation, stem cell therapy may be combined with PRP, as the platelets’ growth and healing factors help promote new cartilage growth.
Other Treatment Options
So where do options like joint replacement, joint fusion or steroid injections fall on this scale? The truth is, steroid injections are a short-term solution at best. At worst, they may worsen the degeneration of the joint over the long-term. Surgery can be beneficial for severe cases of arthritis, but ideally, early treatments in either Category 1 or Category 2 can help improve joint health and slow the disease’s progression enough that surgery is no longer indicated.