Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease of the joint, cartilage, and bone. It is often referred to as the “wear and tear” of a joint. Osteoarthritis develops when cartilage, the cushioning between bone joints, wears away, eventually causing bone to rub against bone once it disappears altogether. Osteoarthritis is more likely to develop in the fingers, feet, knees, hips, and spine, all joints that suffer wear and tear.
Who is at risk for developing osteoarthritis? It is more common in older adults and women are more likely to suffer from it than men. Research has shown that osteoarthritis runs in families. Risk factors include joint injuries and being overweight.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis start gradually and worsen over time. They may start as an ache or stiffness, especially in the morning. Over time, pain develops when the joint is moved, but it is especially relieved when it is at rest. Some people feel a grating sensation when they move. More than likely, the joint in time becomes larger than normal and causes increased pain and stiffness. This contributes to limited flexibility and extension of the joint.
How is it diagnosed?
Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed with an X-ray. The X-ray may show a loss in the joint space, bone spurs, and even the wearing down of the ends of the bones. A physical exam will also assist the doctor with diagnosing osteoarthritis. There are times when the synovial fluid in the joint is tested to rule out an infection or to look for uric acid crystals, which are found in gout arthritis.
The goal of treating osteoarthritis is to reduce pain and improve flexibility and joint movement. The first step in treatment is lifestyle modification. This includes exercise and weight loss. A physical therapy program is recommended to help reduce joint stiffness and increase flexibility. Losing weight will help ease the pain especially on the knees and hips. A 5-pound weight loss, for example, will reduce about 20 pounds of stress on the knee or hip. Applying ice and/or heat may help to relieve the pain in the joint.
Other treatments include relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and TENS (transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation). There are also herbal remedies and dietary supplements. These supplements are not FDA approved and could have potential side effects. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedy. Doctors may also recommend medicines such as Tylenol and NASAIDS such as Advil, Motrin, or Aleve. These drugs help to reduce pain and swelling. They should, however, only be used for a short period of time.
If there is no relief of knee pain from these over–the-counter medicines, for example, corticosteroids and hyalronic acid such as Synvisc and Hyalgan can be injected into the knee joint to help relieve pain for up to 6 months. Another treatment option is surgery. There have been many advances in joint replacement. Knee replacements, for example, are now engineered to be gender specific. Hospital stays following surgery are shorter compared to years ago. Your doctor will make the best decision based on your current health and condition.
If you are experiencing pain in your joints, talk to your physician or orthopedist about what steps you can take to uncover the cause of the pain and to begin a regimen of treatment to relieve the discomfort.
Courtesy of Kaytie Olshefski, RNC, BS, nursing coordinator of Adult Senior Communities in Monroe Township, on behalf of Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Visit our website to learn more about Orthopedic Services at Saint Peter’s. To find an orthopedic physician affiliated with Saint Peter’s, visit saintpetershcs.com/findaphysician