Living with painful and stiff joints is no fun. Arthritis is often the culprit behind the pain we feel, especially as we age. A common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, impacting millions of people worldwide. It tends to affect people who are middle aged or elderly. People often refer to osteoarthritis as the normal “wear and tear” of the cartilage in our joints that occurs from a lifetime of active living. In reality, the disease involves the breakdown of all the structures that make up our joints, including the cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bones. The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary from person to person. For some, the pain and stiffness can severely limit their ability to complete daily living tasks as well as participate in cherished social and leisure activities. Osteoarthritis is one of the top causes for disability in older adults.
Although living with the symptoms of osteoarthritis can feel overwhelming, there is hope. Learning more about the disease and what can be done to treat it are important steps in managing osteoarthritis. The questions below are a good place to start to gain the knowledge needed to successfully live with osteoarthritis while still enjoying a full and active life.
1. What is osteoarthritis?
A: Osteoarthritis is a joint disease. It is caused by the deterioration of the cartilage that is found on the ends of bones. Over time, the breakdown of the cartilage can cause the ends of the bones to rub together. The disease also causes changes to the bones, tendons and ligaments that make up the joint. It can also cause inflammation in the lining of the joint called the synovium. Osteoarthritis tends to progress slowly over time. It often affects weight bearing joints, like a person's hips or knees, as well as frequently used joints, such as the hands or a person's spine.
2. How common is osteoarthritis?
A: Osteoarthritis is a very common health condition. It is estimated that over three million Americans are diagnosed with it each year. It is most common in people over the age of 40. The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases as we age. Osteoarthritis tends to be found in most people by the age of 60, to some extent. Both men and women can get osteoarthritis, however, it is more prevalent in women versus men in people over 50 years of age.
3. What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
A: Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint pain, stiffness and tenderness. Loss of flexibility, or how well a joint moves through its range of motion, is also a common problem. Some people may experience a grating or cracking sensation when moving the affected joint. Joints may become stiff and/or painful after periods of rest or inactivity. Increased activity or overuse may result in increased pain. Swelling in the affected joints and bone spurs can also occur with osteoarthritis.
4. What are the risk factors for osteoarthritis?
A: There a number of risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of developing osteoarthritis. As previously stated, developing osteoarthritis is common as we age, and it is more common in women versus men. Another risk factor is being overweight or obese. One reason for this is that extra weight puts more strain on joints, especially weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Injuries to the joints, both new and old, can also increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Finally, genetics can contribute to one’s risk of developing the condition.
5. How is osteoarthritis treated?
A: The most common treatment options include medication and therapy. Common medications to target pain include over the counter pain relief and inflammation relief medications. To avoid side effects, care should be taken to follow the recommended dosage. Prescription drugs .
Therapy can also be helpful. Physical therapy can work on improving strength and movement in affected joints. Occupational therapy can help find ways to modify daily tasks to decrease stress on joints. Tai chi and yoga can be helpful in reducing pain and improving joint movement. It is best to work with an instructor familiar with osteoarthritis and avoid any movements or postures that cause pain.
Surgical procedures, such as joint replacement, and injections, such as cortisone or lubricant injections, are other options that may be considered when conservative treatments aren’t enough.