Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis diagnosed in the United States today. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation estimates that nearly 60% of the diagnoses of arthritis can be attributed to osteoarthritis. This is a disease of the joints and not systemic like other forms of arthritis, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
The most common symptom is that the joints become painful and sore after repetitive use and is usually worse at the end of the day. Individuals can also experience swelling, warmth and creaking during use. The joint also becomes painful after long periods of inactivity such as sleep all night or sitting for long periods. The actual symptoms will vary from person to person. Some can become completely debilitated while others may suffer remarkably few symptoms in spite of dramatic changes on their x-rays.
Osteoarthritis is more common in the weight bearing and working joints such as the hip, knees, feet and hands but can also occur in the elbow and shoulder. The risk of developing osteoarthritis (OA) will increase as an individual ages. However, some injuries can also lead to OA in young people, such a shoulder dislocation.
Individuals who develop OA will have pain as their key symptom as well as a decreased range of motion in the joint. The exact cause of the condition hasn’t been identified by physicians do know that it is often related to aging and the degeneration of the cartilage that happens. As we get older the water content in the cartilage will increase and the protein decreases. Eventually the cartilage begins to flake or form crevasses causing the bones to have more contact which in turn results in pain, swelling and inflammation.
Individuals can also experience secondary osteoarthritis from another disease or condition, such obesity, trauma, surgery, congenital abnormalities, gout or diabetes. In fact, next to aging, obesity is the most powerful risk factor for the development of OA in the knees and hips.
At this time there is no conclusive diagnostic test or cure for OA. Blood tests may be performed to exclude other diseases that may have caused secondary OA as well as to exclude other disease that can mimic OA. X-rays will be performed to exclude other causes and assist in a decision about surgical intervention. Arthrocentesis, performed in the doctor’s office, will remove joint fluid and analyze it to exlcude gout, infection and other causes for the symptoms as well as to relieve the pressure of fluid build up.
The doctor may also recommend arthroscopy to see inside the joint space and view damage and abnormalities as well as perform small repairs. A thorough medical history and physical examination will always be included. Doctors will note bony enlargements,s pur formations, and bunions which can help with the diagnosis of OA.
Treatment for OA is joint and symptom specific. Because there is not a cure at this time for degneration of the cartilage doctors will recommend specific protocols that have been found to assist with the inflammation and continued degeneration. Those who are overweight will find significant relief in weight loss. The joint should be rested which is alternated with exercise that is recommended by a physical therapist. The objective of the exercise is to spare the joint but increase the strength of the muscles which support it to reduce the pain and discomfort.
The doctor will begin with over the counter anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain and discomfort. Some individuals find relief from moist heat over the area while others appreciate the use of ice. It is a personal choice that is made based on the results of the treatment.
Individuals who suffer from OA can also benefit from dietary supplement glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. The application of both supplements together in pill form has been found in some research to slow the degneration process and relieve pain. Individuals who choose to take these supplements should wait at least 2 months to see any results from them.
For those who do not find enough relief from glucosamine and chondroitin, another type of dietary supplementation are fish oils. These also have some anti-inflammatory properties. Look for Omega-3 capsules from a reputable supplement company.
Individuals who suffer from osteo arthritis in their hands may also get significant pain relief by dipping their hands in hot wax in the morning. This particular type of treatment can be purchased at local pharmacies or medical supplies stores. The wax can be reused after it hardens and it’s just peeled off and replaced back into the melted wax. Warm water soaks in nighttime cotton gloves can also help if the symptoms of osteoporosis in the hands.
The future for individuals who suffer from osteoporosis continues to brighten each year. Recently researchers discovered medications which have decreased the degenerative effects of individuals who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Research scientists have also found specific medications which are currently FDA approved for other uses now are known to slow the progression of cartilage degeneration in the knees of individuals who suffer from osteo arthritis.