by Derek Engle

Also sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic condition affecting the joints. Recent estimates suspect that OA affects more than 54 million Americans. And, although OA can occur in any joint, the most common places are the knee, hip, back, and small joints of the fingers. OA most commonly affects those over the age of 65, but may occur in people of all ages. Recent estimates have also shown that in the United States, OA prevalence is anticipated to increase by 66–100% by this year.

In order to understand what OA is, it’s necessary to know a little about the anatomy of a typical joint. In a normal joint, there is a flexible, rubbery material that covers the ends of the bones called cartilage. Cartilage normally provides a smooth, friction-free surface on which the joint can glide; it also serves as a protective layer and cushion to prevent the bones from rubbing on each other. In OA, the cartilage in the joint begins to break down, which can cause swelling, pain, and mobility issues. OA is sometimes referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, and it is a condition that will gradually worsen over time without intervention.

As OA progresses, bone growths known as spurs may develop, or small pieces of cartilage or bone may break off and float around in the joint causing pain and inflammation. In the final stages of OA, the cartilage is completely destroyed, leading to bone rubbing on bone within the joint causing increased pain and potential bone damage.

Risk factors for developing OA include:

  • Obesity
  • Increasing age
  • Genetics
  • Joint overuse

Common symptoms of OA include:

  • Sore or stiff joints (particularly after episodes of inactivity)
  • Limited range of motion that impairs your daily tasks
  • Pain that gets worse after activity.

The pain, decreased mobility, and other symptoms associated with OA may lead to other negative health effects not necessarily involving the joints. A good illustration of this includes the possible weight gain and development of heart disease and diabetes due to a sedentary lifestyle caused by the joint pain (primarily hip and knee in this example).

So what are the treatment options for OA? 

As it is a chronic (long-term) condition, there is no “cure” for OA but symptoms can be managed. It all starts with lifestyle changes; these include getting enough exercise, changing eating habits, and making sure you have enough physical activity throughout the day. For symptoms of OA, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids (either to take by mouth or a solution that is injected directly into the joint), and physical and occupation therapy to try to improve your range of motion. If none of these options are adequately managing OA symptoms, an orthopedic surgeon may recommend a joint replacement surgery.

Do you think you may have Osteoarthritis in one or more of your joints?  Consult an orthopedic specialist today!

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