The Best Medicine for Osteoarthritis

May 7, 2020

Shari Linick loves to make people laugh. The 54-year-old stand-up comedian, who has taken the stage at bars and comedy halls across New York and New Jersey, says she came out of the womb telling jokes.

The Cliffside Park, New Jersey, resident jokes about it, but not long after she turned 50, her joints started giving her noticeable trouble. “Things started giving out,” she says. “Everything started cracking and creaking, so much so that other people could hear it!”

The Final Straw

Despite the loud popping coming from her joints, Shari didn’t think much of it at first. Maybe she’d been wearing the wrong shoes, or maybe it was time to accept some of the signs of aging. Whatever the case, she still walked a lot and regularly went to the gym for grueling hour-long bootcamp sessions.

After one particular bootcamp, Shari remembers feeling a hot radiating pain flash down her right leg while she was stretching.

“I’d never felt anything like that, but as soon as it was over, it felt great,” she says. “But it was so intense.”

She assumed she’d pulled a muscle, and that it would heal on its own. But a couple of days later, while walking up the stairs at the Port Authority, Shari’s right knee gave out, and she nearly fell down the stairs.

“I had to lean against the railing to catch myself. It was really scary,” she says. “People were running up to me asking if I was OK.”

Shari mentioned her near-fall to her gynecologist, Linda Silva Karcz, M.D., who recommended seeing another doctor for X-rays of the affected joints.

So Shari met with Ullanda Fyffe, M.D., a family practice physician at Palisades Medical Center. The results of the X-rays were clear: Shari had osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis and affects millions of people worldwide.

Treating Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time. Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint, the disorder most commonly affects joints in hands, knees, hips and spine. One of the strongest predictors of developing osteoarthritis is age, Dr. Fyffe says. “Once you hit 50, your chances increase,” she says. “And if you’re a postmenopausal woman who’s over 50, the chances are even higher.”

Shari had all the markers, so a treatment plan soon followed:

  • Changes to workouts: Fyffe told Shari she would have to limit her intense workouts. “Exercise is still important, as is keeping your BMI under 25, but you should limit anything overly strenuous that’s going to put too much stress on your joints,” she says. So Shari cut out her beloved bootcamp and cycling classes, but she still works out. “I love Dr. Fyffe because she doesn’t tell me what to do; she guides me,” Shari says. “She knows I’m not going to stay home and start knitting. She knows I’ll go to the gym, and that’s OK with her.”
  • Diet changes: Shari now eats foods rich in calcium and takes a vitamin D supplement every day.

Other treatments include topical creams, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, assistive devices like a cane or brace, acupuncture and nerve stimulation.

As a last resort, if the pain is debilitating and damage to the joints is significant, Dr. Fyffe would refer Shari to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss whether hip or knee replacement is appropriate. Dr. Fyffe says it’s too soon to tell if Shari will need a hip replacement, and the prognosis is different for everyone.

Her Next Act

For now, Shari is managing her symptoms and refuses to let her osteoarthritis keep her from the stage, even though it means standing for long periods of time.

“I do not care how daunting the staircase up to the stage is,” she says. “I’m getting up there.”

She’s even picked up another talent along the way: Her joints let her know when it’s about to rain. “Now that I’m an old-timer, I can predict the rain,” she says. “But it’s OK with me; I invested in umbrellas.”

Discover how the orthopedics experts at Hackensack Meridian Health are committed to helping you get moving and live life to the fullest.

Dr. Fyffe practices in Cliffside Park. To make an appointment, call 201-861-1851.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.