What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of Arthritis. It's also called degenerative joint disease which mostly affect older people, causing joint pain. This medical condition involves gradual loss of cartilage, a connective tissue responsible in covering ends of your bones at a joint.

A healthy cartilage allows your bones to smoothly move over another. It acts like an elastic gel to provide low-friction surface for joints during movement. In osteoarthritis, though, the cartilage that covers the end of your bone breaks and wears away. This causes your bone to rub together resulting to swelling, pain, and decrease in joint function. And over time, these joints can lose its shape and osteophytes (bone spurs) could form along the edges of the joints due to an increased damage in joint's surface area. This usually causes more pain and stiffness of the joints. 

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis gradually develops over time. Most common factors that could cause it include the following:

  • Getting older
  • Obesity
  • Endocrine problems (Diabetes, Hypothyroidism, Hyperparathyroidism, etc)
  • Joint injury or other fracture 
  • Other Inflammatory Joint Diseases (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, etc)
  • Congenital defect 
  • Genetic defect
  • Bleeding disorder (Hemophilia)
  • Jobs or sports that would require squatting or kneeling for a long period of time or would involve direct impact on your joint.

Signs and Symptoms

It is possible for some individuals to might not have any signs of having osteoarthritis even though the X-ray shows evidence of it. For most people, however, the following are its most common symptoms:

  • Pain in one or more joints which usually gets worst at night or after a physical work.
  • Stiffness and swelling, making your joints difficult to move.
  • A noticeable crunching, rubbing, or crackling sound during movement.

Joints Affected

Osteoarthritis may affect any joint. But it often affects the joints in the following areas:

  • Hands and Fingers – fingers are enlarged which may be painful and stiff.
  • Knees and Feet- one of the most common areas to be affected which can actually lead to disability; symptoms show pain, stiffness, and swelling, making it difficult to run, climb, or even just to sit and walk.
  • Hip – most common area to be affected as well that could greatly limit the person's movements due to pain and stiffness. 
  • Spine – pain and stiffness which are mostly felt in the neck or lower back which may result to numbness or weakness up to the arms or legs areas. 

Diagnosis and Tests

Doctors usually use the following to diagnose or to rule out osteoarthritis:

  • Physical exam
  • Medical history
  • X-ray
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
  • Other medical tests such as blood tests

Treatment

Successful osteoarthritis treatment programs include the following:

  • Life-change which includes weight control and exercise to help reduce your risk of getting osteoarthritis or in maintaining joint movement.
  • Medications such as over-the-counter pain relievers and/or alternative medicines.
  • Non-drug pain relief such as physical therapy to improve joint function.
  • Surgery to repair or even replace damaged joints.
  • Rest to relieve stress and/or pressure on your joints.

Who's At Risk?

Millions of people from around the world suffer from osteoarthritis. And although it's most common among seniors, younger individuals, men or women, may still develop it as a result of congenital or genetic defects, fracture or injuries, or those who are overweight

Summary

Osteoarthritis is a debilitating disease that affects many. Symptoms may be different from one person to another, causing others to still perform any physical activity while others may not be capable of doing even just a simple daily task.

Yes, having osteoarthritis can actually be a burden as it limits your movement or your ability to function and live a normal life. So it's important to stay informed about the various treatments available to help you cope with osteoarthritis.