Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects millions of people all around the world. The condition is characterized by the deterioration of the cartilage in the joints causing the bones to grind against one another. It mostly affects people over the age of 55. However, it can develop in anyone at anytime. Sufferers of osteoporosis experience joint pain, stiffness, tenderness, locking in the joints, and loss of mobility. There is no cure for osteoporosis. Treatment of the disease typically focuses on alleviating symptoms and may include medication and physical therapy. However, a new treatment, discovered by accident, may help alleviate osteoarthritis pain without the use of medication.
A group of researchers at the University of Nottingham were in the community inviting people to try out a machine that creates an optical illusion that a person’s hand is being massaged. The person puts their hand into a box and then watches a screen which shows their fingers being pulled and stretched as though someone was massaging them. However, the image is a computer simulation that tricks the mind into believing that. No one is actually touching the subject’s hands. However, the researchers were surprised when older participants who suffered from arthritis in their hands began to report reduced pain after taking part in the experiment.
The team, which included co-researcher Dr. Catherine Preston, recruited 20 senior patients who were suffering from osteoporosis to participate in an experiment to test whether or not the machine actually reduced osteoarthritis pain. They had the test subjects rate the pain they felt in their hands on a 21 point scale with 20 being the highest and most unbearable feeling of pain. After using the machine, they were asked to rate their pain again. The team was surprised to find that 85% of their volunteers experienced an average 50% reduction in the feeling of pain after they used the machine.
Doctors frequently recommend that patients participate in exercise to keep arthritic joints limber which helps stave off the effects of the disease. However, many patients find it too painful to take part in physiotherapy. This leaves them with very few options to mitigate the discomfort associated with the disease. If the machine, called the Mirage, is found to actually help alleviate arthritis pain it opens the door to additional treatment options that won’t involve the use of medication. This, in turn, can help alleviate some of the side effects associated with the use of painkillers on a long term basis.
Professor Alan Silman who is the charity medical director for Arthritis Research UK noted that while there is a lot of potential with this new discovery, the research is still in its early stages and requires further testing and extensive investigation to ensure they are on the right track. It may be years before the studies are completed and treatment options using the technology are developed. In the meantime, people should continue to work with their healthcare providers to find effective treatment options for their osteoarthritis.
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