The term arthritis is generally used to describe the pain, inflammation, and deterioration of the joints. There are actually over 100 types of arthritis; however, osteoarthritis is the most common. This condition affects an estimated 27 million Americans, occurring in roughly 10% of men and 13% of women. Typically associated with old age and obesity, osteoarthritis commonly affects weight-bearing joints as well as hands and feet. The chances of developing the condition increase with age with the majority of people affected being around 50 years old.
Osteoarthritis (OA) causes the cartilage in a joint to lose its elasticity and become stiff, making it more prone to weakness and damage. As time goes on, the cartilage may wear away in some areas, reducing the ability to provide shock absorption for the body. Without smooth cartilage, tendons and ligaments begin to stretch causing pain as well as limited movement. In the advanced stages, OA causes bones to rub and develop painful “spurs” that further limit mobility.
Risk Factors and Causes
Risk factors for osteoarthritis are highly variable, depending on a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. If you have a family history of osteoarthritis, you’re at a higher risk for developing the condition yourself. Injury to a joint can also serve as a risk factor as previous injuries tend to develop arthritis later on in life. Wide-ranging wear and tear associated with aging is the most commonly recognized factor however obesity, muscle weakness, and overuse of joints are also responsible.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis develop gradually and may worsen over time if not treated correctly. Symptoms may include:
- Joint aching and soreness, especially with movement
- Pain after overuse or after long periods of inactivity
- Stiffness after periods of rest
- Joint swelling
- Clicking, cracking, or grinding feeling when bending joints
- Bony enlargements in the middle and end joints of the fingers (which may or may not be painful)
Though OA occurs most often in the hips, knees, and spine, or other weight bearing joints, it can also affect the joints in the fingers, neck, and feet. It’s possible for OA to occur within any joint throughout the body, though it tends to affect overworked or injured areas most.
An OA diagnosis is made using a description of your symptoms, the location of the pain, the pattern of symptoms, and a physical exam. X-rays may be used to confirm the diagnosis, rule out other types of arthritis, and show how much joint damage has occurred. In order to devise an appropriate treatment plan, an MRI may be ordered to get a better look at the joints and surrounding tissue. Blood tests can also rule out other forms of arthritis. If imaging reveals fluid buildup around the joints, doctors may order a joint aspiration to remove some of the fluid from around the joints for pain relief and further analysis.
Treatment depends on the affected joint(s), though most people who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis can live long, productive lives. It’s usually treated using a combination of methods such as: weight loss (if necessary), pain medication (sometimes injected directly into the joint), exercise, strengthening physical therapy, hot and cold compresses, or fluid removal. The use of assistive devices such as canes and walkers may also help relieve some pain. When all other treatments have been deemed ineffective, surgery may provide some pain relief.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, are often recommended to treat the pain associated with the condition. If over-the-counter medication doesn’t work, doctors may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory, pain, or steroid medications. Unfortunately, no medication can reverse joint damage; nevertheless, a healthy lifestyle goes a long way.
For many patients, sensible weight loss takes some of the stress off of affected joints. Consider foods that are low-fat, high-fiber, and rich in vitamins. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and healthy fats and oils (fish and olive oil) all promote joint health while sugar, sodium, red meat, and dairy encourage inflammation.
It is important to note that exercise must be approved by your doctor. Exercises should be low impact, for instance, walking or swimming as opposed to running or jogging. Muscle strengthening exercises, particularly in the knee, will also help reduce pain.
The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material found on this website is intended to promote and encourage consumer understanding and should not be considered alternative or supplementary medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health or physical condition, seek the advice of a licensed qualified healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor before beginning a new healthcare regimen, undergoing any procedures, or changing current healthcare plans. Seniors and Health does not claim medical representation and assumes no responsibility in the accuracy of the information available on this website.