What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joint and it is the most common chronic condition that affects the joints. It can be found in any joint but it is commonly found in the knees, hips, lower back and the neck as well as the small joints in the fingers. It can affect movement and can cause pain and discomfort in many cases.
A specialist will determine whether you have osteoarthritis by asking you about your symptoms and carrying out an examination on your joints. Osteoarthritis is often seen in people aged over 50 and if your joints become more painful as they are used then it could also mean that osteoarthritis is present. The symptoms of osteoarthritis are similar to that of other joint conditions and that could mean that x-rays and blood tests are carried out to rule out these other conditions.
Osteoarthritis is a long-term condition that has no cure although it can be treated so that the symptoms are managed. So, regular exercise, losing weight, using suitable footwear and using special devices that help to reduce the strain on joints can help to ease pain and the symptoms. In some cases, if the pain is severe then painkilling medication might be required and in some cases, surgery might be necessary to either repair, strengthen or replace the damaged joint.
In many cases, osteoarthritis can be managed through a change in lifestyle. This means that exercise can be used to help such as swimming or cycling in order to keep the joint active but with the stress or strain.
A good posture can also help to ease the problem in some cases while staying in the same position for a long period should be avoided as this can cause stiffness in the joints. Weight loss can help to reduce the strain on the joints and can even help to reduce the chances of developing the condition in other joints.
Do you have questions about Osteoarthritis?
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What causes osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is the general term used to describe inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is caused by wear and tear on the joints and is associated with the breakdown of the cartilage in the joints, and can affect almost any joint of the body.
The most commonly affected joints are the weight-bearing joints in the body – the spine, hips and knees; however, osteoarthritis can affect smaller joints, including the neck, fingers, thumb and large toe.
In most cases, osteoarthritis develops in the main weight-bearing joints but usually doesn’t affect other joints unless they have been previously injured. In some cases, osteoarthritis can develop in non-weight bearing joints that have suffered excessive physical stress over several years, or the patient suffers from a health condition that affects the cartilage within the joints.
Your joints have a natural protective layer of cartilage that covers the ends of your bones in moving joints. Cartilage is a firm, rubbery substance, and its primary function is to help reduce impact and friction in working joints. The shock-absorbing properties of cartilage come from its ability to change shape and flatten out when compressed.
Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in a joint to lose its elasticity and become stiff. The cartilage can wear away, causing supporting ligaments and tendons to stretch and the raw bone ends of your joints to rub against each other, causing pain.
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
If you are suffering consistent joint pain and suspect that you may have arthritis, your doctor will consider four factors before they can make an accurate diagnosis of osteoarthritis.
- Physical examination
- The location and pattern of your joint pain
- X-rays or other diagnostic scans
- Your description of symptoms
What your doctor will also check for are any other medical issues that may be the cause of your symptoms. Many diseases share or mimic the same symptoms of osteoarthritis, so they will want to make sure you get an accurate diagnosis before moving forward with any treatment plan.
It is possible that you may have another type of arthritis and not osteoarthritis. Your doctor will want to get a better look at your affected joints and surrounding tissues to make sure your symptoms clearly point to arthritis, so you may be asked to take a number of diagnostic tests before you get a firm answer.
Your diagnostic tests may also include blood tests to check for a different type of arthritis that may be present and contributing to your symptoms. Sometimes you may need a joint aspiration where a sample of fluid is taken from a swollen joint to check for other diseases.
What are the four stages of osteoarthritis?
There are four stages of osteoarthritis that patients tend to go through. These are:
Stage one – minor: You develop minor wear and tear of the joints but may feel little to zero pain in the affected joints. If you don’t already have a medical history of osteoarthritis, you may not even be aware that you are developing the condition.
Stage 2 – mild: You may feel some stiffness in your joints, especially when standing up or walking after long periods of sitting or standing still. Any x-rays or scans taken at this stage may show some damage to the main weight-bearing joints.
Stage 3 – moderate: In this stage, you may feel increasing levels of joint pain or discomfort during regular daily activities. This is where your joints become more noticeably inflamed and is the most common stage where most osteoarthritis patients will seek out a medical diagnosis and treatment for their symptoms.
Stage 4 – severe: The most severe stage of developing osteoarthritis is where your joints will be most painful. Stage 4 is where most of your protective bone cartilage has almost wholly been worn away, leading to an inflammatory response in the joint. In the worst-case scenario, if left untreated, you may need joint surgery or a complete joint replacement.
What is the best treatment for osteoarthritis?
As of yet, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, there are many effective treatments that you can use to help relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
The main treatments include a personally tailored plan that will consist of a balance of lifestyle changes, including regular gentle exercise to help strengthen your muscles and support your joints and eating a healthy diet of low-inflammatory foods and drinks.
Maintaining a healthy weight and taking regular gentle exercise can help to reduce the pressure on your affected joints. A non-weight-bearing activity such as swimming is a great way to strengthen your muscles without putting any extra strain on your joints.
You may be prescribed painkilling medication to relieve your joint pain and even steroid joint injections to help reduce joint inflammation, reduce pain and maintain your quality of life.
In severe cases, when other treatments are not helpful, you may need joint surgery to help repair or replace your affected joints.
What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common types of arthritis. Many people cannot tell the difference between the two conditions because many of the symptoms can be similar. However, a correct diagnosis is needed to ensure that you receive the most appropriate treatment for your condition.
Osteoarthritis develops when the rigid but flexible cartilage on the surface of the bones of your joints becomes damaged and worn out. Many patients notice symptoms that begin in a single joint, such as in a knee or one side of the hip.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This is where your immune system starts to attack your body’s healthy cells instead of unwanted intruders. Your immune system will attack the synovial membrane that cushions and protects your joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis will often affect several joints at once, so you may feel symmetrical symptoms such as pain in both knees or hip joints. You may also experience symptoms such as high fever, anaemia, fatigue, or loss of appetite.