Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as age-related arthritis, is a condition in which joint cartilage becomes inflamed, and wears down over time. Osteoarthritis, which takes the form of arthritis in the knee, hip, shoulder or other joint, is the most common joint disorder, and several different forms of arthritis exist. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis. Treatment is usually oriented toward alleviating pain and stiffness to improve a patient’s quality of life.
Osteoarthritis can be common among:
- Older adults
- Overweight individuals
- Those with jobs requiring lots of movement/heavy lifting/stress on the joints
Many patients with osteoarthritis experience decreased mobility of the joints/decreased joint flexibility, as well as pain and swelling. The diminishing cartilage can often lead to painful bone spurs as the movements of the bone are not cushioned by sufficient cartilage between them, and may rub directly against each other, causing pain and overgrowth of bone in those areas.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
Cartilage is a firm, rubbery tissue that functions as a cushion for bones in the joints. When the protective cartilage breaks down and wears away, bones forming joints can then touch directly, and rub together during movement. This causes pain, swelling, and stiffness, as well as bony spurs or extra bone to form around the joint. Ligaments and muscles in and around the joint also become weak and stiff, and can become inflamed due to the surrounding inflammation.
The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, but the mild presence of osteoarthritis here and there is considered a normal part of the aging process for everyone. When cases are more severe, this can be due to several factors, including genetic predisposition. Osteoarthritis may also be caused by wear and tear on a joint, or traumatic injury to that joint.
- Osteoarthritis is genetic and can run in families.
- Obesity increases the risk of osteoarthritis in the hip, knee, ankle, and foot joints due to added stresses, and wear and tear.
- Bone fractures, torn cartilage, and ligament injuries can initiate the development of osteoarthritis later in life.
- Kneeling or squatting for more than an hour a day at work is a high risk factor as well as occupations with a lot of lifting, stair climbing, or walking.
- Sports with direct impacts on joints (football), twisting (basketball or soccer), or throwing (baseball) increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
- Disorders that cause bleeding in the joint (hemophilia).
- Medical disorders that block a joint’s blood supply.
- Having other types of arthritis (chronic gout, pseudo gout, or rheumatoid arthritis).
Symptoms of osteoarthritis begin to appear in a person’s middle age. Men are more likely to experience symptoms of osteoarthritis before the age of 55, but OA symptoms are more common in women after the age of 55. However, by the age of 70, almost everyone will have some symptoms somewhere in their bodies. Luckily, many people experience only minor symptoms. Some select people will not experience any symptoms, but X-rays can still show the presence of osteoarthritis even if there is no associated symptomology such as pain.
The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness in the joints. Pain is stronger after exercise or putting weight or pressure on the joint. A lot of people wake up in the morning with pain and stiffness. This “morning stiffness” usually lasts for about 30 minutes as activity tends to “warm up” the joint and the use of the joint encourages better mobility. As the day progresses, the pain may worsen when active and feel better when resting. Usually, as you age, it is better to keep steadily mobile with light activity every day so that joints are less likely to develop stiffness from disuse.
Over time, and without supportive treatment, the joints in people with osteoarthritis will most likely become stiffer and harder to move. There may even be a noticeable rubbing, grating, or crackling sound when the joint is moved. Pain may even become present when resting to the point that it wakes people up at night.
Read more about osteoarthritis from NIH.gov.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Osteoarthritis cannot be cured and will likely gradually worsen over time. Despite this, there exist many techniques that can increase mobility and reduce pain. Symptoms can be controllable. Surgery may be an option for some people, but other non-surgical treatments can also improve your quality of life by alleviating pain.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can be used to relieve the pain from osteoarthritis without a prescription. OTC drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen are readily available to ease the pain of osteoarthritis.
Other medications for osteoarthritis pain can include:
- Vitamin/mineral supplementation such as glucosamine and chondroitin
- Capsaicin skin cream or topical warmers such as “IcyHot”
- Corticosteroid injections into the joint
- Artificial joint fluid injected into the knee joint
A doctor might also recommend making some lifestyle changes. By staying active and exercising regularly, patients can maintain joint mobility and flexibility. Patients should ask their doctor to recommend an exercise routine they can perform at home or in the water. Swimming and other water-based exercises can be especially helpful in that they put very little stress on the joints and encourage staying active.
A physician might recommend some other lifestyle changes, including:
- Losing weight (if overweight)
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Getting the proper amount of rest each night
- Applying heat and/or cold to joints daily
- Protecting the joints from strains and overuse
Physical therapy can be a great treatment for people with osteoarthritis. There are therapy programs designed to be rehabilitative and improve muscle strength, joint motion, and balance. Unfortunately, if a program does not relieve symptoms within six to eight weeks, chances are that the program will not work at all. Massage therapy might also give patients short-term relief from the pain, and help work out any surrounding muscle spasms. As with any treatment program, it is best to work with licensed and experienced professionals who can give you good instruction so that your condition is not accidentally worsened by poor techniques and movements.
Braces and splints are sometimes useful to support weakened joints. Only use these if a doctor or therapist recommends it because the wrong brace can contribute to worsening joint damage as well as added stiffness or pain.
Osteoarthritis patients, in severe cases, might benefit from surgery to replace or repair severely damaged joints. These surgical alternatives include:
- Arthroscopic surgery to trim torn and damaged cartilage
- Osteotomy (surgery to alter bone alignment and relieve stress on the bone or joint)
- Arthrodesis (the surgical fusion of bones to relieve pain)
- Total or partial joint replacement surgery
Orthopedic Services in Beverly Hills
The orthopedic surgeons at Meier Orthopedic Sports and Regenerative Medicine are highly experienced in arthroscopic joint surgery. We strive to help improve our patients’ quality of life. That may include exhausting all reasonable non-surgical options before recommending surgery as the best course of action.
If you are experiencing joint pain and stiffness as outlined above, you should talk to your doctor about osteoarthritis. You can also contact our Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeons by calling 310.736.2793 or filling out this website’s contact form. We look forward to helping you improve your quality of life!
Next, learn about Orthopedic Spine Conditions.