Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints. Also know as degenerative joint disease, it is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 20 million American adults. It should not be confused with rheumatoid arthritis, which is not the same as osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is caused by a breakdown of cartilage, the substance that provides a cushion between the bones of the joints. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another and acts as a shock absorber during physical movement. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage breaks down and wears away. This causes the bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing pain, swelling and loss of motion of the joint.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Most cases of osteoarthritis have no known cause. Risk factors include:
- Age – osteoarthritis affects more people over the age of 45
- Female – osteoarthritis is more common in women than in men
- Certain hereditary conditions such as defective cartilage and joint deformity
- Joint injuries caused by sports, work-related activity or accidents
Diseases that affect the structure and function of cartilage, such as rheumatoid arthritis, hemochromatosis (a metabolic disorder), Paget's disease and gout
Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis usually begins slowly. Early in the disease, joints may ache after physical work or exercise. Often the pain of early osteoarthritis fades and then returns over time, especially if the affected joint is overused. Other symptoms may include:
- Swelling or tenderness in one or more joints, especially before or during a change in the weather
- Loss of flexibility of a joint
- Stiffness after getting out of bed
- A crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone
- Bony lumps on the joints of the fingers or the base of the thumb
- Steady or intermittent pain in a joint (although not everyone with osteoarthritis has pain)
Which joints are affected by Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint but most often occurs in the spine, hips, knees or hands.
How do I know if I have Osteoarthritis?
No single test can diagnose osteoarthritis. However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor. Most doctors use a combination of tools to determine if you have osteoarthritis, including: History, Tests and Physical Examination.
Treatment of Osteoarthritis
Even though there is no cure for osteoarthritis, its symptoms can be treated. Osteoarthritis treatment generally includes the following: Pain Control, Exercise and Weight Control.
Spine surgery (in severe cases) may be necessary to relieve chronic pain in damaged joints.
One of the most important things you can do is to take care of yourself and adopt healthy lifestyle habits. People with osteoarthritis can enjoy good health despite having this disease. Research shows that patients who take part in their own care report less pain and make fewer doctor visits. They also enjoy a better quality of life. The best way to start is what you are doing right now – learning as much as you can about osteoarthritis. Talk to your doctor about programs that you can join that are designed to help you manage your condition and develop a healthy lifestyle.
Article reprinted from Spine Universe