Osteoarthritis is a normal result of aging. It is also caused by ‘wear and tear’ on a joint.
Cartilage is the firm, rubbery tissue that cushions your bones at the joints, and allows bones to glide over one another. If the cartilage breaks down and wears away, the bones rub together. This causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. Bony spurs or extra bone may form around the joint. The ligaments and muscles around the joint become weaker and stiffer.
Often, the cause of osteoarthritis is unknown… it is mainly related to aging. But, the symptoms of osteoarthritis usually appear in middle age. Almost everyone has some symptoms by age 70. However, these symptoms may be minor. Before age 55, osteoarthritis occurs equally in men and women. After age 55, it is more common in women.
Additional factors that can lead to osteoarthritis
- Osteoarthritis tends to run in families.
- Being overweight increases the risk of osteoarthritis in the hip, knee, ankle, and foot joints because extra weight causes more wear and tear.
- Fractures or other joint injuries can lead to osteoarthritis later in life. This includes injuries to the cartilage and ligaments in your joints.
- Jobs that involve kneeling or squatting for more than an hour a day put you at the highest risk. Jobs that involve lifting, climbing stairs, or walking also put you at risk.
- Playing sports that involve direct impact on the joint (such as football), twisting (such as basketball or soccer), or throwing also increase the risk of arthritis.
Medical conditions that can lead to osteoarthritis
- Bleeding disorders that cause bleeding in the joint, such as hemophilia
- Disorders that block the blood supply near a joint and lead to avascular necrosis
- Other types of arthritis, such as chronic gout, pseudogout, or rheumatoid arthritis
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Pain and stiffness in the joints are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis. The pain is often worse after exercise and when you put weight or pressure on the joint.
If you have osteoarthritis, your joints probably become stiffer and harder to move over time. You may notice a rubbing, grating, or crackling sound when you move the joint.
The phrase “morning stiffness” refers to the pain and stiffness you may feel when you first wake up in the morning. Stiffness usually lasts for 30 minutes or less. It is improved by mild activity that “warms up” the joint.
During the day, the pain may get worse when you’re active and feel better when you are resting. After a while, the pain may be present when you are resting. It may even wake you up at night.
Some people might not have symptoms, even though x-rays show the changes of osteoarthritis.
Get Relief from Osteoarthritis
Explore the many treatments for osteoarthritis, including the Knee Arthritis Program (KNAP) at ICPR. We’ll help you limit your pain without limiting your activities. No surgery is required! There’s nothing like your natural knee.
Treatment of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis cannot be cured. It will most likely get worse over time. However, your osteoarthritis symptoms can be controlled. You can have surgery, but other treatments can improve your pain and make your life much better. Although these treatments cannot make the arthritis go away, they can often delay surgery.
Medications Proven to Help with Osteoarthritis Symptoms
Over-the-counter pain relievers, which you can buy without a prescription, can help with osteoarthritis symptoms. Most doctors recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) first, because it has fewer side effects than other drugs. If your pain continues, your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Types of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
Other medications or supplements that you may use include:
- Corticosteroids injected right into the joint to reduce swelling and pain
- Over-the-counter remedies such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
- Capsaicin (Zostrix) skin cream to relieve pain
- Artificial joint fluid (Synvisc, Hyalgan) can be injected into the knee to relieve pain for 3 – 6 months (Explore ICPR’s Knee Arthritis Program)
Lifestyle Changes Can Help Control Osteoarthritis Pain
Staying active and getting exercise helps maintain joint and overall movement. Ask your health care provider to recommend an appropriate home exercise routine. Water exercises, such as swimming, are especially helpful.
Other lifestyle recommendations include:
- Applying heat and cold
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Getting rest
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Protecting the joints
As the pain from your osteoarthritis becomes worse, keeping up with everyday activities may become more difficult or painful.
- Sometimes making changes around the home will take some stress off your joints and relieve some of the pain.
- If your work is causing stress in certain joints, you may need to adjust your work area or change work tasks.
Physical Therapy Exercises Can Help Improve Strength and Motion
Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength and the motion of stiff joints, as well as your sense of balance. Therapists have many techniques for treating osteoarthritis. If therapy does not make you feel better after 6 – 8 weeks, then it likely will not work at all.
Massage therapy may also help provide short-term pain relief. Make sure you work with an experienced massage therapist who understands how to work with sensitive joint areas.