What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage in the joints wears down over time. Cartilage is the tissue that acts as a cushion between the bones in the joints.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that typically affects the joints in the hands, knees spine and hips (though the damage can be done in any joint of the body).
What causes osteoarthritis?
With osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears down until it becomes rough. In fact, it can even wear to the point that the bones are grinding against one another.
Factors that may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis include:
- The risk increases as you grow older
- Patients born with defective cartilage or abnormal joints can have an increased risk
- Some patients may be genetically predisposed to developing osteoarthritis
- Injury to the joints. Joint injury resulting from an accident or a sports injury can leave the joint susceptible to osteoarthritis
- Excessive weight on the joints—especially weight-bearing joints, such as the hips or knees—can contribute to the condition. The condition can also develop from fat tissue producing inflammatory proteins in and around the joints
- Certain jobs with repetitive motion and stress on certain joints may result in osteoarthritis
- Women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms typically develop slowly over the course of time and may include:
- A grating sensation that can be heard or felt
- Bone spurs, which are extra bits of bone that form around the joint and may feel like hard lumps
- Joint stiffness predominantly in the morning or after a long period of inactivity
- Joint tenderness when light pressure is applied
- Loss of flexibility or motion
- Pain in the joint during or after movement
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
Following a physical exam (in which tenderness, swelling and range of motion of the joint are assessed), a physician may recommend testing that includes:
- A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan for detailed images of the cartilage
- An X-ray to reveal spacing between the bones in the joint or bone spurs around the joint
- Blood tests to rule out other causes for the joint pain (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
- Joint fluid analysis to see if there’s inflammation and if the joint pain is the result of an infection or gout
How is osteoarthritis treated?
Though there is no cure for osteoarthritis, symptoms may be effectively managed with lifestyle changes and various therapies. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight and exercising, a physician may recommend:
- Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Aleve®)
- Physical therapy to strengthen muscles around the joint, reduce pain and increase range of motion
- Occupation therapy to teach patients how to do everyday tasks that won’t put stress on the joints
- Movement therapy, such as tai chi and yoga, to reduce pain and improve movement
- Cortisone injections to relieve pain (injections are usually limited to three or four a year due to the risk of worsening the joint damage)
- Surgically realigning the bones to shift weight (or stress) off of the damage
- Joint replacement, where the damaged portions of the joints are removed and replaced with plastic/metal parts
For more information on osteoarthritis or to schedule an appointment with a specialist, contact us today.