Osteoarthritis is the ‘wear and tear’ arthritis. It is the most common type of arthritis. This type of degenerative joint disease wears the cartilage away, hence its name.
The cartilage functions as a buffer and helps cushion the movement between the surfaces of the joints. If the cartilage starts to break down due to heavy use or age, osteoarthritis can start to develop.
This type of arthritis usually occurs in weight-bearing joints such as the knees, spine and hips. It can also be present in the large toes, neck, fingers and thumb.
Osteoarthritis is NOT a Systemic Disease
Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, which is a systemic disease, osteoarthritis is a localized disease. Most cases of osteoarthritis are only limited to the affected area of the joints. However, when there is a severe loss of cartilage the person may expect misshapen joints and this results in joint instability. This joint instability can also cause the joints to buckle or lock, which usually occurs in the knees.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
The symptoms are usually felt in the affected areas such as the knees, hips, spine, fingers and hands. Those who have osteoarthritis will most likely experience the following discomforts:
The primary symptom of osteoarthritis is pain which is also the main cause of functional impairment. Although the pain may develop gradually, it can also worsen with too much physical activity. During the early stages of OA, the pain may be reduced after resting.
Unfortunately, as the disease progresses, the pain will become more persistent making it harder for the person to experience relief, even after resting or using any type of treatment.
Any feelings of joint stiffness can be worse in the morning. It can also be experienced after long periods of rest or inactivity. When stiffness occurs, the joints become rigid, painful and hard to move. This is why an individual’s coordination, ability to observe proper posture and the ability to move freely can be affected.
Tenderness is a symptom that is more common to people who are already suffering the advanced stages of osteoarthritis. Tenderness can be felt when light pressure is applied to the affected joints.
Although swelling is a more common symptom of people who have rheumatoid arthritis, it can also be experienced by people with osteoarthritis. As the cartilage wears away, bone-on-bone contact can occur and this can then lead to swelling.
Bone spurs are small bony projections. Although these bony projections may occur naturally, they can occur as a result of an inflammation to some parts of the joints. They can be painful, especially when they are rubbed against bones and/or nerves. These bone spurs are often described by osteoarthritis sufferers as hard little lumps that are felt around the affected joints.
Noisy joints are sometimes called ‘crepitus’ and this is common among osteoarthritis sufferers. The sound is described as being something that is grinding, crackling, creaking or snapping.
Treatment for Osteoarthritis
There is no cure for osteoarthritis but there are plenty of treatments available that will help relieve the pain. Some doctors advise osteoarthritis sufferers to undergo therapy from a professional physical therapist or occupational therapist. This type of treatment helps the person to improve their mobility.
Increasing Your Body’s Flexibility
This is one part of the treatment plan that many people tend to overlook, mainly because movement is painful.
Consider taking up Yoga or Pilates to boost the flexibility of your joints and improve the strength of your muscles. When your muscles are strengthened, there will also be lesser pressure on your cartilage.
Diet and exercise are crucial to the health of the joints and bones and important for improving the body’s flexibility. Increased flexibility in the joints means improved nourishment in the cartilage.
Know the Activities to Avoid
If you think that a certain activity will only cause you a lot of pain, find a better way to accomplish the task. You can make compromises to help protect your affected joints. If a task requires you to normally stand but it can be performed while sitting, do it. Try not to put too much pressure on your joints.
You also need to avoid tasks that require heavy lifting. Your common sense will tell you which tasks will be harmful, so be prepared to make some changes, or have someone else do it for you instead.
Make Use of Supportive Devices
Osteoarthritis patients may find using supportive devices to reduce the stress on their affected joints beneficial. Supportive devices have been proven helpful in stabilizing damaged joints.
Be wary of becoming reliant on any type of supportive devices, as over-use may lead to muscle wasting. Therefore, make sure to only use these devices under the supervision or advice of your doctor or therapist. There are braces, crutches, canes, shoe lifts and inserts that are helpful for reducing the pressure on the affected joints while your body and mobility improve.
Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are critical, not just in terms of managing the condition, but also in slowing down its progression.
If the disease continues to become worse, surgery has been recommended as a last resort. Many osteoarthritis patients have been able to live an active life after having a joint replacement.