Osteoarthritis: The Basics

Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis. It affects nearly 27 million Americans. This chronic condition results from the deterioration of cartilage in the joints. Most people develop this arthritic condition in the hands, hips or knees. Shoulder osteoarthritis is also common, but the disease rarely affects other joints.

The painful symptoms of osteoarthritis make it hard to work, play sports or do everyday tasks. The symptoms tend to develop gradually and grow worse over time. Currently, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. Treatments focus on pain management and improved functioning of the joints.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis occurs when bone cartilage starts to deteriorate due to normal wear-and-tear on the joints. Increasing age is a risk factor for osteoarthritis, but not everyone develops symptoms. The chronic condition is a disease and not part of the natural aging process.

Cartilage is a slippery, protective tissue that cushions the bones during movement. The normal wear-and-tear of life causes cartilage to wear down. If it fully deteriorates, the bones start rubbing against each other. This leads to the development of osteoarthritis.

What are the Symptoms?

Arthritic joints are painful, tender and swollen. Some people experience pain and stiffness after periods of sleep or inactivity. Others feel an increase in pain during joint movements.

Physical activity is essential for those with osteoarthritis, despite the initial discomfort. Osteoarthritis exercises keep joints flexible and lubricated. They also strengthen joint muscles, which support the affected joints.

Who Gets Osteoarthritis?

The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually appear during middle age. Under age 55, men are more likely than women to develop symptoms. However, after age 55, more women are likely to have the disease.

Many factors contribute to the development of osteoarthritis. Age, injury, obesity, genetics and muscle weakness are among the common risk factors. Despite its prevalence in America and around the world, doctors are still uncertain about its cause. The disease has no cure, but treatments make it easier to manage they symptoms.

What are the Treatments?

Osteoarthritis treatments center on pain management, joint protection and quality of life. Analgesics, topical pain-relievers and steroid drugs control pain and inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also helpful, but they may cause unwanted side effects.

Surgery such as joint replacement is usually reserved for severely damaged joints. Shoe inserts, braces, canes and other assistive devices are available for those who need them. Nutritional supplements, relaxation techniques and other holistic practices are often good complementary therapy when combined with medical treatment.

Lifestyle changes are usually a necessary part of osteoarthritis treatment. Weight control, healthy eating and regular exercise play an important role in symptom management. Osteoarthritis knee exercise, hand exercises and other physical therapies are effective drug-free treatments for osteoarthritis.