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What is Osteoarthritis (OA) – Causes, symptoms, treatments

What is Osteoarthritis OA

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. In this blog post, we will explain what osteoarthritis is, what causes it, what are the common symptoms, and how it can be treated.

Osteoarthritis overview

Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint condition that can affect any joint in the body, but it is more common in the hands, fingers, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders. Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis, because it is caused by the breakdown of cartilage due to aging, injury, or overuse.

Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that covers the ends of the bones and allows them to glide smoothly over each other. When cartilage wears away, the bones rub against each other, causing friction, inflammation, and damage. This can lead to pain, swelling, stiffness, loss of flexibility, and bone spurs (extra bits of bone that form around the affected joint).

Osteoarthritis can vary in severity from mild to severe. Some people may have only occasional episodes of pain or discomfort, while others may have constant pain and difficulty moving their joints. Osteoarthritis can also affect the quality of life and interfere with daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs, working, or hobbies.

Osteoarthritis causes and risk factors

The exact cause of osteoarthritis is not fully understood, but several factors can increase the risk of developing it. These include:

Age: Osteoarthritis is more common in older people, as cartilage tends to wear down with age. The Arthritis Foundation says that most people over 50 years old have some signs of osteoarthritis.

Genetics: Osteoarthritis can run in families, especially if there is a history of joint malformation or defects.

Gender: Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men, especially after menopause.

Weight: Being overweight or obese puts extra stress on the joints, especially the knees and hips. This can accelerate the cartilage loss and increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

Injury: Previous injuries to the joints, such as fractures, dislocations, torn ligaments, or cartilage damage can increase the risk of osteoarthritis later in life.

Occupation: Jobs or activities that involve repetitive movements or heavy lifting can put strain on the joints and cause cartilage wear and tear.

Other medical conditions: Some diseases or conditions that affect the joints can increase the risk of osteoarthritis. These include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints), gout (a type of arthritis caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood), and Paget’s disease (a bone disorder that affects how bones grow and break down).

Osteoarthritis symptoms

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary depending on the affected joint and the severity of the condition. The most common symptoms include:

Pain: The affected joint may hurt during or after movement or when pressure is applied to it.

Stiffness: The joint may feel stiff or tight after being inactive for a while or in the morning.

Reduced range of motion: The joint may not be able to move as freely or as far as before.

Swelling: The joint may become swollen or inflamed due to fluid buildup or tissue irritation.

Crepitus: The joint may make cracking, popping, or grinding sounds when moved.

Bone spurs: The joint may develop bony growths around it that can be felt as hard lumps under the skin.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis may come and go in episodes or flare-ups. They may also worsen over time as the cartilage loss progresses. Some factors that can trigger or worsen osteoarthritis symptoms include:

– Cold or humid weather

– Overuse or excessive activity

– Stress or emotional tension

– Infection or illness

Osteoarthritis diagnosis

To diagnose osteoarthritis, a doctor will ask about your medical history, your symptoms, and your lifestyle. They will also perform a physical examination to check your affected joint for signs of damage or inflammation. They may also order some tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of your joint pain. These tests may include:

X-rays: These can show the extent of cartilage loss, bone damage, and bone spurs in the joint.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This can provide a more detailed image of the joint and the surrounding tissues, such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

Blood tests: These can help detect signs of infection, inflammation, or other conditions that may affect the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.

Joint fluid analysis: This involves taking a sample of fluid from the joint with a needle and examining it for signs of infection, inflammation, or crystals.

Osteoarthritis treatment

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are several treatment options that can help relieve the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. The treatment plan for osteoarthritis may vary depending on the affected joint, the severity of the condition, and your personal preferences. The main goals of treatment are to:

– Reduce pain and inflammation

– Improve joint function and mobility

– Prevent further joint damage

– Maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle

The treatment options for osteoarthritis may include:

Medications: These can help reduce pain and inflammation in the joint. Medication may include over-the-counter or prescription drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), or topical creams or gels that contain capsaicin (Zostrix) or menthol (Icy Hot). Some people may also benefit from injections of corticosteroids (a type of anti-inflammatory drug) or hyaluronic acid (a substance that lubricates the joint) into the joint.

Physical therapy: This can help strengthen the muscles around the joint and improve its range of motion. A physical therapist can teach you exercises and stretches that are suitable for your condition and your goals. They can also advise you on how to use assistive devices, such as braces, splints, or walkers, if needed.

Occupational therapy: This can help you learn how to perform your daily activities with less pain and difficulty. An occupational therapist can teach you how to modify your home or work environment, use adaptive equipment, or change your habits to protect your joints and prevent further damage.

Alternative therapies: These can help complement your medical pain treatment and improve your overall well-being. Some examples of alternative therapies that may help with osteoarthritis include acupuncture, massage, yoga, tai chi, regenerative medicine, biofeedback, aromatherapy, or herbal remedies. However, you should always consult your doctor before trying any alternative therapy, as some of them may have side effects or interact with your medications.

Surgery: This is usually considered as a last resort when other treatments have failed to provide adequate relief or when the joint damage is severe. Surgery can help restore the function and appearance of the joint by removing damaged tissue, reshaping the bone, or replacing the joint with an artificial one. The type of surgery depends on the affected joint and your individual situation. Some common types of surgery for osteoarthritis include arthroscopy (a minimally invasive procedure that uses a small camera and instruments to repair the joint), osteotomy (a procedure that involves cutting and realigning the bone to reduce stress on the joint), arthroplasty (a procedure that involves replacing the damaged joint with an artificial one), or arthrodesis (a procedure that involves fusing two bones together to make one rigid joint).

Osteoarthritis prevention

Osteoarthritis cannot be completely prevented, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing it or delay its onset. These include:

Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese puts extra pressure on your joints, especially your knees and hips. Losing weight can help reduce this stress and prevent cartilage wear and tear.

Eating a balanced diet: Eating a variety of diet that provide essential nutrients for your bones and joints can help keep them healthy and strong. Some foods that may be beneficial for osteoarthritis include oily fish (such as salmon or sardines), fruits and vegetables (especially those rich in vitamin C and antioxidants), nuts and seeds (such as walnuts or flaxseeds), whole grains (such as oatmeal or brown rice), and low-fat dairy products (such as yogurt or cheese). You should also limit your intake of sugar, salt, saturated fat, and processed foods, as they may increase inflammation and worsen your symptoms.

Exercising regularly: Physical activity can help keep your joints flexible and your muscles strong. It can also improve your blood circulation, reduce stress, and boost your mood. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing. You should also do some strength training exercises at least twice a week, such as lifting weights or using.

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