Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive form of arthritis characterized by breakdown of the cartilage in joints. It is a degenerative joint disease which causes pain in the joints with activity. The disease is most often found in the knees and hips. This disease is also more common in people over 60, but it can also affect younger people, particularly if they have had a joint injury or joint surgery.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis typically develop slowly. The most common symptoms include:
- Pain – Consistent pain with use of the involved joint.
- Stiffness – Stiffness and pain immediately after being sedentary, and is referred to as a “gel phenomenon.” The morning stiffness of osteoarthritis typically lasts no more than 30 minutes.
- Bone grating – A crunching feeling or grating sound of bone rubbing against bone.
- Knobby fingers – Knobby enlargements of the small joints of the fingers, known as Bouchard’s nodes. When they occur at the joints closest to the nail, they are known as Heberden’s nodes.
- Bone Spurs – Small bony extensions known as osteophytes sometimes grow on the edges of osteoarthritic joints.
Osteoarthritis: Common Areas
This disease is common in large weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, and spine. It is also common at the base of the thumb, the small joints of the fingers, and the neck.
It occurs as a result of aging cartilage. Aging cartilage progressively becomes stiffer and more vulnerable to wear and tear. Severe disease will cause the cartilage to wear away completely so that the adjacent bones in the joint rub together with use.
Osteoarthritis: Risk Factors
Aging is the major risk factor for this disease. The condition is rare in people under age 40, but increases between the ages of 55-75.
Some genes can interfere with joint health. For example, one rare genetic defect, called Stickler syndrome, interferes with the body’s natural ability to produce the cartilage protein collagen XI.
The bodies of overweight people put more stress and strain on their joints. That causes the natural cartilage cushions at the hips and knees to wear down faster.
The symptoms vary from patient to patient. Some people have no symptoms, while others experience significant pain and stiffness. The disease can cause difficulty in standing, walking, turning knobs or keys, or opening jars. Spinal osteoarthritis causes nerve irritation leading to numbness, tingling, and weakness.
Physical Therapy Treatments
There is no specific treatment that can stop the progressive degeneration of cartilage. However, joint function can be improved by many therapies, including physical therapy that is designed to increase flexibility and strengthen muscle power. Hot or cold applied topically as compresses can relieve the aches and pains.
Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medication, including aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen can relieve pain and stiffness. Pain-relieving creams or sprays can also help when applied directly to the sore area. Also, injection of steroids into the affected joint can ease persistent pain.
Osteoarthritis and Weight
Obesity is a risk factor for this disease and. Even a modest weight reduction can result in significantly less joint pain.
Osteoarthritis and Exercise
Low-impact exercise activities can improve mobility and strength and ultimately reduce pain.
Watch this informative video by Nucleus Medical Media on osteoarthritis.