March 26, 2019
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Osteoarthritis affects millions of people worldwide. It’s the most common form of arthritis and occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of the bones wears down over time.

Osteoarthritis can damage any joint in the body but the disorder typically affects the joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. Although osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, the symptoms can typically be effectively managed.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis symptoms tend to develop slowly and worsen with time. The early signs of osteoarthritis are typically pain, swelling, tenderness, and warming of the skin over the affected joint. Other symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain: Joints may hurt during or after movement.
  • Tenderness: Joints may feel tender when you apply light pressure.
  • Stiffness: Joint stiffness is the most noticeable when you wake up in the morning. Stiffness can also be worse after inactivity or in colder weather conditions.
  • Grating: People with osteoarthritis may hear or feel a grating sensation whenever the joint is used.
  • Loss of flexibility: People with osteoarthritis may not be able to move a joint through the full range of motion.
  • Bone spurs: Bone spurs are extra bits of bone that feel like hard lumps and may form around the affected joint.

Types of Osteoarthritis

There are two main types of osteoarthritis: primary and secondary.

  • Primary osteoarthritis is a more generalized type of osteoarthritis that affects the fingers, thumbs, spine, knees, and hips.
  • Secondary osteoarthritis typically occurs following an injury, such as a repetitive injury, sports-related injury, or inflammation within a joint.

Osteoarthritis Causes

When the cartilage that cushions the end of the bones in the joints deteriorates, osteoarthritis occurs. When healthy, this cartilage is firm and slippery and permits nearly frictionless joint motion. However, when osteoarthritis occurs, the cartilage becomes rough. Over time the cartilage can wear down completely leaving bone rubbing on bone.

Osteoarthritis Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase the risk of osteoarthritis. These include:

  • Age: The risk of osteoarthritis increases as an individual gets older.
  • Sex: Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men.
  • Weight: People who are obese are at a much greater risk of developing osteoarthritis. Carrying any extra body weight contributes to osteoarthritis and varying ways. For example, increased weight can put added stress on weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips.
  • Joint injuries: People who have incurred an injury to a joint from an accident, playing sports, or another reason, may have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.
  • Occupational stress: Certain occupations, like those that include putting repetitive stress on a particular joint, can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.
  • Genetics: Some individuals may inherit a tendency to develop osteoarthritis.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you have osteoarthritis, he or she will closely examine the affected joint. They will check for tenderness, swelling or redness, and for range of motion in the joint.

Sometimes a doctor may recommend Imaging and lab tests. Imaging and lab tests including blood work, fluid analysis, X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging and can help diagnose osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis Complications

Osteoarthritis worsens with time because it is a degenerative disease. Complications include joint pain and stiffness that may become severe enough to hinder daily tasks.

Some people develop symptoms that are so severe that they find they are no longer able to work. When joint pain is severe, a medical professional may suggest joint replacement surgery.

Preventing Osteoarthritis

While there is no way to ensure you won’t develop osteoarthritis, there are certain lifestyle changes that can help you improve the health of your joints and lessen your chance of developing the disease.

One of the best things you can do is manage your occupational risk. If you work a job that involves a lot of repetitive motion (such as kneeling, lifting, twisting, or walking), talk to your doctor about ways you can reduce your osteoporosis risk.

Another great way you can reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis is by exercising regularly. Low-impact exercises including strength training and stretching coupled with aerobic exercise can maintain healthy joints. This can also help you maintain a healthy weight which is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

As of now, osteoarthritis cannot be reversed. However, the symptoms can typically be managed effectively with lifestyle changes, physical therapy, medications, and in some cases, surgery.

If you have osteoarthritis, a doctor will likely recommend a combination of the following treatments:

  • Medications: One of the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis is pain, which may be held by certain medications such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and Cymbalta.
  • Therapy: Certain therapies including physical therapy, occupational therapy, Tai Chi, and yoga can help manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
  • Surgical Procedures: Sometimes conservative treatments don’t help ease or manage osteoarthritis symptoms. And more severe cases, surgical and other procedures may help.  These include procedures such as cortisone injections, lubrication injections, realigning bones, and joint replacement surgery.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies for Osteoarthritis

When it comes to managing osteoarthritis symptoms, lifestyle changes can be one of the most effective ways to make a significant difference.

  • Exercise: Exercise not only increases endurance, but it can help strengthen the muscles around the joints, which makes the joints more stable. Walking, biking, and swimming provide exercise without putting too much strain on the joints.
  • Weight Loss or Weight Management: Being overweight puts more stress on weight-bearing joints like the hips and the knees. Losing weight or managing a healthy weight can significantly lessen osteoarthritis related pain.
  • Manage Pain with Temperature: Both cold and heat can help relieve pain and the joints. Cold can relieve muscle spasms while heat can relieve stiffness. In addition, capsaicin, an active component in chili peppers, can be applied to an arthritic joint as an alternative for people who can’t take NSAIDs. The cream heats after application and can reduce pain and stiffness.
  • Shoe Inserts: Shoe inserts can help reduce any pain experienced when you stand or walk by immobilizing or supporting the joints.
  • Assistive Devices: Certain assistive devices can make it easier to go about your day without putting excess stress on a painful joint. This includes things like a cane and a stability device which can help take the weight off of your hip or knee as you walk.

Related Article: The Best Diet Plan for People with Osteoarthritis

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