Osteoarthritis

This month we are looking at the exciting world of arthritis. Last week we discussed gout, a type of arthritis brought on by the buildup of uric acid in the body. This week, let’s take a look at Osteoarthritis. Sometimes referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cushioning between our joints wears down bringing all sorts of problems with it.

All of us use the joints in our bodies every single day. Just look how many there are in your hand and arm alone. Now, think about how much your feet (in particular) twist, bend, flex, and move in a single day or even a single hour. That’s a lot of movement! Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people across the globe. And sometimes there is very little we can do to prevent it. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

  • Old age – The longer you’ve been using your joints, the more likely they are to be worn down and cause symptoms.
  • Sex – Women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis (and we’re not exactly sure why).
  • Weight – Carrying a lot of extra weight puts extra stress on our joints and can lead to a faster breakdown of the protective tissue in our joints.
  • Your job – If your job puts constant strain on a single joint or set of joints (such as a job that involves lots of standing and walking) this could contribute to the breakdown of joint tissue.
  • Genetics and bone deformities – Unfortunately, some people are born with a malformed joint or even just a genetic predisposition to develop osteoarthritis.
  • Injuries – Any injury to a joint, even if it seems fully healed, can contribute to osteoarthritis later in life.

The signs of osteoarthritis start simply, but the disease is progressive and will worsen over time. Symptoms include pain (imagine that), stiffness or tenderness, loss of flexibility, possible bone spurs, and some people experience the feeling of their bones grinding together when they move.

X-rays and MRIs are the best way to diagnose osteoarthritis. A family history and physical examination are also generally conducted. Blood or joint fluid tests may be required to differentiate between osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis. If your pain is being caused by osteoarthritis, there is a myriad of treatment options to choose from.

Many patients can be treated with over the counter pain relieving medications. They may also benefit from gentle exercises, such as yoga, or physical therapy. If the pain cannot be managed with OTC meds, your doctor may suggest cortisone injections. This is a limited treatment option, since the maximum recommended treatment is less than four injections a year. In worst-case scenarios, joint replacement surgery may be necessary.

If you experience pain, stiffness, or a grinding sensation in your joints, and especially if you have a family history of arthritis, please make an appointment with your doctor to be checked for osteoarthritis. Catching this progressive disease early is important in order to slow the degeneration of your joint tissues. As I have said many times before, pain is not normal, if you are experiencing it on a regular basis, go see your doctor. Your joints will thank you!

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