Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It’s also known as degenerative joint disease.
Joints are where bones meet, end to end. In between the bones is a layer of soft, slick material called cartilage. This cushions the ends of the bones. When you have osteoarthritis, though, the cartilage begins to wear down, causing pain and other problems.
Experts aren’t exactly sure why this happens. But growing older plays a role. You are more likely to get osteoarthritis if you are overweight, obese, or have suffered a severe joint injury. You are also more likely to get osteoarthritis if someone else in your family has it.
Osteoarthritis affects men and women equally. But symptoms often start earlier in women. Most people first notice it as gradual joint pain and stiffness. The most common places to get osteoarthritis are the hands, knees, hips, and back. You may also feel pain and stiffness in your neck and feet.
In some people, symptoms get worse with activity. Symptoms are often more noticeable toward the end of the day.
To find out if you have osteoarthritis, your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history and give you a physical examination. X-rays may show bone growths, or areas where the cartilage has worn away.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatments can reduce pain. They can also improve your quality of life.
The best way to manage osteoarthritis is by combining treatments.
Medications can reduce pain and stiffness. They often include acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also called NSAIDs.
Other drugs that may help include opioids or corticosteroids. These control pain and inflammation. You may also benefit from topical lidocaine. It’s a painkiller you can apply directly to your skin. Corticosteroid injections into your joints may relieve symptoms, too.
Besides medication, you may have to switch to activities that are less demanding on your joints, such as walking, cycling, or swimming.
Physical and occupational therapists can teach you specific exercises to ease pain. These exercises will also strengthen your muscles to give your joints more stability.
Certain devices may also help you avoid pain while doing certain movements.
Losing weight, if you are overweight or obese, can also help. This is especially important if you have osteoarthritis in your knees, hips, spine, or ankles.
Dietary supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are popular home remedies. But talk with your healthcare provider before taking them as they may interact with your other medications or health problems.
Some people with osteoarthritis may benefit from surgical treatments such as arthroscopy, osteotomy or joint replacement.
It’s important to remember that osteoarthritis is not a normal part of aging. Treatments are available to ease symptoms and improve your life.
What We Have Learned
Everyone’s joints wear out as they grow older. True or False?
The answer is False. Growing older plays a role. You are also more likely to get osteoarthritis if you are overweight, obese, or have suffered a severe joint injury.
Osteoarthritis is best managed with multiple treatments. True or False?
The answer is True. Often, a combination of medication, exercise, surgery, or a special device can help your osteoarthritis.