Could Radiation Therapy Help Eliminate Your Arthritis Pain?

Whether you suffer from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may find yourself lying awake each morning and dreading the pain and pressure that will begin as soon as your feet hit the floor. These ailments can significantly impair your quality of life, preventing you from engaging in active pursuits from hiking to playing the piano -- or worse, leaving you dependent upon prescription narcotics simply to remain upright. However, radiation treatments have recently been shown to be highly effective against both RA and osteoarthritis, and if your arthritis hasn't responded well to other treatments, this may be one of your best (and longest-lasting) options. Read on to learn more about how radiation therapy can help treat your arthritis, as well as what you should consider before pursuing this treatment path for yourself.

What is internal radiotherapy?

Internal radiotherapy is a type of long-term radiation treatment for joint pain caused by cartilage damage. During the procedure, your physician will inject the offending joints with a solution containing radioactive material. You'll be required to keep the joints immobilized for some period of time while the radiation does its magic, and then you'll be permitted to go about your daily activities as normal. It can take up to six months for the radiation to fully take effect, so you'll likely need to continue your normal medication regimen until you begin to notice a decrease in the amount of pain you feel. Unlike cortisone shots and other arthritis treatments, internal radiotherapy can provide pain relief for nearly four years. At this time, you'll be able to choose a follow-up radiotherapy procedure or decide to go another direction in the treatment of your osteoarthritis or RA.

How can this therapy help you manage your arthritis pain and stiffness? 

Radiotherapy works against both types of arthritis by degrading the damaged cartilage within the problematic joints. As this cartilage is worn away by the radiation (which also dissipates over time), it regrows in a healthier manner, reducing the pain on your joints caused by pressure on damaged cartilage. Since this radiation wears away the damaged cartilage regardless of the initial cause of damage, it is uniquely effective against both osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease, and RA, an autoimmune disease. 

When used as a treatment for RA, in combination with mild immunosuppressant drugs that can prevent your joints from becoming swollen and inflamed, internal radiotherapy can provide effective long-term pain relief to allow you to get back to your normal life. Internal radiotherapy also has long-lasting benefits for osteoarthritis sufferers, particularly those who are dealing with osteoarthritis at a relatively young age. Once the cartilage grows back in a normal, healthy formation, it should last for decades without causing you much pain as long as you avoid activities like football or rugby that could cause you to twist your knee at the same time you're falling to the ground.

This procedure is not without risks. Because the radioactive material remains inside your joint for an extended period of time while it erodes the cartilage, it can pose the same risks present with other types of radiation treatment. You may have a slightly increased risk of bone or bone marrow cancer as those who don't have radiation therapy -- however, your overall risk should still be very low, particularly when contrasted with the high likelihood of long-term pain relief from this procedure.

You may also be at slight risk of infection at the injection site. However, as long as you practice good hygiene practices and follow the doctor's instructions to keep the joint from moving just after your injection, this risk should be minimal.