Basics of Osteoarthritis


Arthritis is generally defined as an inflammation of the joints. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, otherwise referred to as wear and tear arthritis. This happens when the joint cartilage breaks down, and this can happen in any body joint. Joints that bear weight, like at the knees, hips, and spine, often develop this. This condition can also impact the neck, large toe, fingers and thumb. Osteoarthritis, also known as OA, generally will not affect other joints unless they were injured or if the joints were overly stressed.

In normal bones, cartilage is the materials with a rubbery texture that encases the ends. Its primary purpose is to absorb shock and reduce friction in joints. When it is pressed together or compressed, normal cartilage changes shape and absorbs the shock.

When osteoarthritis occurs, the joint cartilage loses its elasticity and stiffens, increasing the risk of damage. As time passes, this cartilage can wear away, thus reducing its capability to absorb shock. As the deterioration of the cartilage progresses, it causes ligaments and tendons to stretch, resulting in pain. If this degeneration continues, the ends of the bones will rub against each other.

Who Is Susceptible to Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis afflicts about 27 million people in the U.S. The older one becomes, the higher the likelihood of developing this condition. Most people who are over 60-years-old suffer from osteoarthritis to a certain extent, at varying degrees of severity. Osteoarthritis can also afflict people in their twenties and thirties. In the over-50 population, more women than men suffer from osteoarthritis.

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What Symptoms Are Presented With Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis symptoms do not come on suddenly, but rather gradually. They include:

  • Aches and soreness in joints during movement
  • Pain from not moving for a long time, or after using the joint too much
  • Stiffness after resting
  • Enlarged joint in the middle and end of the fingers, which may or may not be accompanied by pain
  • Swollen joint

What Are The Causes Of Osteoarthritis?

A number of factors can increase the risk of someone developing osteoarthritis. These are:

– Heredity. One of the genes that is involved in producing cartilage may have a defect that was inherited. When the body makes defective cartilage, joint deterioration progresses faster. For those who are born with abnormalities of the joints, they have higher risk in developing osteoarthritis. People born with scoliosis, abnormal curvature of the spine and other spinal irregularities are at higher risk of developing spinal osteoarthritis.

– Obesity. When a person is obese, it leads to greater risk of developing osteoarthritis at the hip, spine and knees. To prevent the onset of osteoarthritis or to slow down its progression, proper weight loss and weight maintenance should be pursued.

– Injury. Osteoarthritis is more likely to develop when there had been an injury. For instance, sports competitors who have knee injuries have s greater chance of developing osteoarthritis of the knee. People who have suffered from back injuries can develop osteoarthritis of the spine. A joint area that has had a broken bone nearby is more prone to developing osteoarthritis.

– Overusing the joint. When a joint is used too much, this raises the risk of osteoarthritis. For instance, people who need to bend their knees repeatedly on the job are at higher risk in developing osteoarthritis at the knee joints.

– Diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis is the next most common type of arthritis, and those who suffer from it are more prone to develop osteoarthritis, too. Plus, uncommon conditions like overproduction of growth hormones or an overload in iron, also increase the probability of osteoarthritis development.

What Is Done To Diagnose Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can be diagnosed using information from a combination of factors:

  • The symptoms that you experience
  • Where your pain is located and any pattern associated with it
  • A complete physical exam

Your physician will confirm the diagnosis by taking an x-ray to rule out other types of arthritis. The x-ray will reveal the extent of the joint damage. If the x-rays are inconclusive, your doctor may also schedule you for an MRI to get a closer examination of the joint and the tissues around it. A blood test may be ordered to find out if this can another type of arthritis. If your joints have an accumulation of fluids, your doctor may draw out some fluids by doing a joint aspiration. He will examine the fluid under a microscope to make sure that other diseases are not present.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

Osteoarthritis can be treated in a variety of ways which includes prescription medicines, exercises, muscle strengthening through physical therapy, and a weight loss program if necessary. Applying hot and cold compresses to the affected joint can also help. More joint fluids may be removed. Medications can be injected directly into the joint. You may be given a set of crutches or other kinds of supportive devices. If no other methods are helpful, then surgery may be considered.

How this treated depends on how old you are, your level of daily activities, your medical history, where the osteoarthritis is located, and how severe it is.

Osteoarthritis Medications

Over-the-counter pain medicines may be recommended. Aleve, Tylenol, and ibuprofens like Motrin or Advil are typical of what you can get. These should not be taken for more than 10 days continuously without consulting with your doctor because of undesirable side effects that can result after 10 days. If these drugs are not effective, then your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain reliever that will reduce inflammation. A medicated rub or cream may be prescribed. For extremely severe pain, an injection of steroids into the joint may be considered. This can be done several times a year, but some health professional think this may precipitate damage to the joint. Hyaluronic acid may also be injected right into the knee joint for pain relief. Very sever pain can be controlled by prescription narcotic. The unfortunate news is that these treatments only manage the pain but will not stop or slow down the progression of osteoarthritis.

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