Arthritis is an incredibly common affliction that comes in several different forms. According to the CDC, over 50 million Americans are living with the condition that causes painful inflammation of the joints. And, while there are over 100 total types of arthritis and related conditions, 27 million are dealing specifically with osteoarthritis.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) goes by many different names. It may be referred to as degenerative joint disease, degenerative arthritis, or wear and tear arthritis. As the name implies, OA occurs over time. In our youth, cartilage is firm and resilient, allowing joints to move with ease and providing cushion. As this cartilage breaks down with age, pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints results. This occurs most commonly in frequently-used joints such as the knees, hips, back, neck, fingers, and toes.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
In addition to age, there are other factors which may lead to the degeneration of cartilage. Certain genetic defects may impede the production of collagen, a vital component in healthy cartilage, or cause a misalignment of bones, leading to earlier wear and tear. Being overweight, having injuries to the joints, or repetitive overuse can also contribute to the development of OA. Athletes and those whose careers involve repeated motion or excessive amounts of time spent standing are particular susceptible.
What are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
OA often presents with common arthritis symptoms such as pain and stiffness that builds gradually over time. In many cases, these symptoms are felt most intensely first thing in the morning, but they may also be worse following periods of physical activity. Additionally, patients may also complain of clicking from the joint, swelling, tenderness and redness, or scraping sensations with movement.
How is Osteoarthritis Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for OA. However, there are treatment methods available to relieve symptoms and minimize its impact. Overall, the goal is to minimize pain, swelling, and other related symptoms while also retaining and improving joint mobility. For many patients, this can be accomplished through combinations of the following:
- Exercise – While it may seem counterintuitive to increase motion in painful joints, exercise is one of the best ways to manage OA symptoms. Not only does physical fitness help maintain a healthy weight and ease added pressure on the joints, it can also help strengthen supporting muscles around them. Furthermore, some forms of exercise can also help improve flexibility and range-of-motion.
- Physical Therapy – Physical therapy (and occupational therapy) can be useful tool in the fight against OA by helping patients better understand beneficial exercises, providing home remedies to relieve pain, and teaching proper joint usage to minimize pain.
- Medication – Over-the-counter and prescription medications become a necessity for most OA patients in time. These can include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, analgesics, and hyaluronic acid and are administered orally, topically, or by injection.
If you are suffering from symptoms of arthritis, it is important to see your physician earlier rather than later. The sooner you are able to reach a diagnosis, the better equipped you will be to address your condition. Together with your doctor, you can determine which treatments and therapies work best for you, and combine them in a way that maximizes your comfort level and eases the progression of the disease.