What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition affecting the joints as the soft joining tissue becomes worn.
This medical problem can be caused by a number of reasons: joint injury, genetics, age, being overweight, other medical conditions and even your job could have an impact.
It’s possible for this ailment to affect any joint within the body, however typically it’s prone to the hips, hands and knees.
Osteoarthritis is very common, it affects almost 10 percent of men and 18 percent of women worldwide. (1)
There are many forms of arthritis, yet unlike others osteoarthritis only targets the joints. It’s deemed as a “wear and tear” condition which largely affects the more mature amongst us.
It’s an illness which is linked to inflammation in the body. However even with all the scientific research the exact processes still remain elusive.(2)
However, they can clarify the source of the problem – the joint.
A body joint involves various different components: bone, tendons, ligaments and muscle are all connected to ensure movement functions correctly. The majority of problems surrounding osteoarthritis lie within the cartilage.
Cartilage is the flexible tissue which acts as a protective barrier between the bone joints. When it’s working as it should it provides a smooth action, allowing you to move naturally and freely without having to even think about it.
It also acts as a sponge for the joints, which means it soaks up the force of movement protecting your skeleton.
However, should this buffer zone become damaged in anyway or in this case worn down, it means this vital layer can no longer work as it should.
Osteoarthritis affects everyone differently. Some people will find their symptoms fluctuate, whereas for others it will be constant.
Typical telltale symptoms of osteoarthritis can be described by the following:
Joint Pain and Tenderness
It oftens starts off as a dull ache after taking part in physically demanding or repetitive activities.
Initially the pain will subside, however as the condition progresses discomfort could worsen or become more frequent and consistent.
Joint tenderness is another complaint and can be explained as a sensation of soreness when pressure is applied to the area.
With osteoarthritis you may also start to notice simple actions becoming more difficult to achieve than before.
After sitting for long periods of time or first thing in the morning you might find it more of a struggle to get moving.
This is because the cartilage isn’t working efficiently anymore which means your body is finding it harder to perform basic functions.
As a rule, once you get going the symptom will subside.
Your joints also contain fluids to help lubricate the area.
However, inflammation can cause this body liquid to build up around the joints which leads to puffiness and swelling.
Loss of Movement
Osteoarthritis is a debilitating problem. Therefore, feeling like you have lost some flexibility within your range of movements is another common sign.
For example: You might not be able to lift your legs as easily walking up a flight of stairs or bend down as quick to pick something up.
Feeling of Friction
As the joining tissues deplete you will eventually be left with a bone to bone situation.
This leads to crepitus. It’s a term which can be defined as hearing your joints grating, creaking or crunching when movement is applied. (4)
Not only will your joints become very vocal, you will also feel the bones rubbing together.
There are 5 clinical stages osteoarthritis, here we explain them step-by-step: (5)
If you are at this point of the staging process, technically you don’t have anything to worry about. This means there is nothing wrong with your joints or your cartilage.
This is the very early stages of osteoarthritis.
Inflammation forces the body to start forming additional bone growth deposits around the joint area. These are known as osteophytes or bone spurs.
At this point, you will be experiencing mild symptoms such as: aches or pains after prolonged physical exertion.
At this point, moderate wear and tear of cartilage has occurred.
The joint end of the bone (the subchondral area) has now begun to increase in size, this is known as subchondral sclerosis. (6)
This means discomfort will now be more frequent and for prolonged periods. Stiffness and loss of flexibility will also become more apparent.
At this stage of proceedings considerable damage would have taken place.
The cartilage will now be all but virtually destroyed and as a result the area between the two adjoining bones has shrunk.
Both the bone growths (spurs) and the end area of the bone (subchondral) have now increased even further – causing an uneven edge.
Joint pain, stiffness and even swelling will be a grave problem.
This is the final and most serious stage of osteoarthritis.
By now there won’t be any cartilage left between the joints and the space in between the two bones would have totally diminished.
In effect your bones are actually rubbing together and destroying one another with every movement you make.
You will experience a grinding sensation, extreme pain and an immense lack of mobility
At present, there is no known cure for osteoarthritis.
However, there are ways to manage the condition. Depending upon what stage you are at will determine the course of treatment your doctor will prescribe. The main treatments include:
Exercise is beneficial for health, yet it can also improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Frequent physical activity when combined with weights (strength training) can actually relieve the pain caused by osteoarthritis. (7)
Experts have also discovered a connection between weaker muscle strength and an increased risk of osteoarthritis.
This form of exercise can also be considered beneficial for preventing the condition in the first place. (8)
Even though a regular exercise program is encouraged, to minimize risk of further injury it’s advised to keep to a low-impact fitness routine. This is because your joints also double as a shock absorber for your bones .
As well as strength training, swimming and brisk-paced walking are both good examples.
Being overweight can lead to many complications and osteoarthritis is one of them.
Excess weight puts further stresses and strain on your joints. It forces them work harder and wear down faster.
Weight loss can both alleviate the pain and also slow down joint damage. (9)
Although natural treatments are encouraged first, medical intervention will also form part of the plan.
Medication will not stop or delay deterioration of wearing tissue but it will help with the discomfort and make daily life manageable.
Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication can be prescribed to numb the discomfort and reduce any swelling.(10)
Other types of medication include injections.
These are administered directly into the joint area and provide both anti-inflammatory and pain relief. However, there are limitations to this course of action. This is because prolonged treatment can actually enhance cartilage damage.
Surgery is for those who are in the later stages or who have exhausted all alternative therapies with no success.
Joint replacement surgery involves swapping the bone joint for either a plastic, porcelain or metal substitute.
It’s major surgery and requires an intense rehabilitation process post procedure.
What is Osteoarthritis? Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints predominantly caused by the connective tissue wearing down.
What are the signs of Osteoarthritis? Typical signs of osteoarthritis include: joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It can also lead to a lack of free movement and mobility issues.
How do you develop Osteoarthritis? The leading causes of osteoarthritis include: age, family history, injury, other medical complications, certain types of work and being overweight
How are you diagnosed for Osteoarthritis? The main way to diagnose this condition is by a combination of both physical and x-ray examination. Other methods, which may be used as part of the process include: MRI scans or through a joint fluid test. You cannot be diagnosed with osteoarthritis by blood test alone.
What is the best treatment for Osteoarthritis? Prevention is the best treatment. However, if you have already been diagnosed Osteoarthritis can be managed in the following ways: regular physical activity or losing weight. Medication is prescribed to reduce pain and reduce swelling. In severe cases doctors will recommend surgery to replace the offending joint.
What are the long term complications of Osteoarthritis? Sufferers of osteoarthritis particularly in the latter stages will find movement is seriously restricted. Chronic pain will also be a major concern. The lack of cartilage can also lead to joints going out of shape. This means you could become unsteady on your feet, increasing risk of tripping over and injuring yourself.
Is Osteoarthritis considered a disability? Osteoarthritis is certainly a debilitating condition. As to whether you are classed “disabled” by authorities will depend on the severity of your individual situation. (11)
Is there any cure for Osteoarthritis? Unfortunately osteoarthritis is not reversible. However, there are various natural and medical treatments which can be used according to the severity of your symptoms. This should help you cope with the condition.
Is Osteoarthritis life threatening? No. Osteoarthritis is not a life threatening disease.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions of the joints, which currently has no known cure.
However, the symptoms are treatable and natural methods are actively encouraged to slow down the degeneration.
It’s clear osteoarthritis can have a negative impact upon your quality of life if left to its own devices. However, you can make day to day more manageable with early diagnosis and healthy lifestyle practices.