Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. Millions of people are affected by osteoarthritis all over the world. It occurs when the cartilage between the bones degenerates with age. This leads to structural or functional malfunction of one or multiple joints. Osteoarthritis can not only affect the joint, but it can also affect the surrounding muscles, bone, ligaments, joint lining (synovium), and the joint cover (capsule). Though osteoarthritis can harm any joint in the body, it mostly affects joints of hands, knees, hips, and spine.
The development of osteoarthritis results in a slow deterioration the affected area. There is no complete cure for this disease. However, living an active, healthy life, and controlling your diet and weight, may reduce the progression of the disease, and help improve joint function.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
- Age – As it is a degenerative disease, it progresses as we age. Most people over the age of 60 have osteoarthritis to some degree, but the severity varies among patients.
- Genetics – If osteoarthritis has occurred previously in a family, there is a likelihood of it becoming a genetic condition, which develops over time.
- Obesity – Obese people are more prone to develop knee and hip osteoarthritis. This happens as these joints have to carry extra weight of the body, and so, the joints get damaged very early.
- Gender – Women are at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis than men.
- Past Afflictions – Previous cases of joint injury, muscle damage or deformity can cause changes in the body, which may lead to osteoarthritis in the future.
- Work – The disease can also develop due to excessive strain placed on a joint in professional environments. For example, athletes suffer mostly from knee osteoarthritis, and people working with pneumatic drills suffer from elbow osteoarthritis.
The symptoms of OA develop gradually and worsen as the problem continues. Here are the symptoms of osteoarthritis:
- Pain – Joint aches during or after movement.
- Tenderness – When you apply light pressure on the joint, it may feel tender.
- Stiffness – You may find your joint becoming rigid while performing joint movements. Stiffness may occur in the morning, or after a period of inactivity.
- Loss of flexibility. You may not be able to move your joint through its full range of motion.
- Grating sensation. You may hear or feel a grating sensation when you use the joint. It happens when joints rub against each other.
- Bone spurs. This implies extra growth on the bone edges. These spurs are very painful as they poke into the joints.
Your joints in the neck, fingers, ankle, big toe, and the base of the thumb may also get affected by osteoarthritis. If your pain or stiffness lasts for more than few weeks, then you should consult the doctor before the pain escalates.
Diagnosis & Tests
X-rays, MRIs, and blood tests may help in diagnosing osteoarthritis. X-rays and MRIs show the level of damage in joints by the reduction of normal space between joints, the loss of cartilage, and bone spurs.
Blood tests can showcase deficiencies or increased levels of some substances that point to the cause of osteoarthritis.
There is no complete cure for osteoarthritis. Treatment can be decided after examining the patient, and severity of the condition. Treatment will be modified according to the patient’s health to improve daily life while dealing with osteoarthritis.
- Medicines – A few medications such as painkillers can be given for temporary pain relief. Paracetamol and acetaminophen are some medicines that can reduce pain. There are also certain supplements, which are known to slow down the process of degeneration in osteoarthritis.
- Exercise – Exercise is one of the most important treatments for people with osteoarthritis, as weight gain can be a cause of the disease. Exercise maintains muscle strength and keeps arthritic joints mobile. Strengthening the muscles of the joint can reduce pain when performing joint movements.
- Visco-supplementation – Also called hyaluronic acid injections, hyaluronic acid is a substance similar to healthy joint fluid. It is injected into the osteoarthritic knee to supplement damaged joint fluid and reduce pain. It is very useful for the initial stages of osteoarthritis, and it also helps to develop healthy cartilage over a period of time. Generally, patients who choose this option have to take one injection annually.
- Knee Braces – These help support the arthritic knee. It also helps to correct knee deformities and restore normal knee biomechanics.
- Surgery – This is usually the last option considered for severe osteoarthritic cases, when all other options have been exhausted.
A proper understanding of the disease, early diagnoses, and choosing the best treatment option can help patients suffering from osteoarthritis lead an overall comfortable life.