What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic (long-lasting) joint condition.
A joint is where two bones come together. The ends of these bones are covered with protective tissue called cartilage. With OA, this cartilage breaks down, causing the bones within the joint to rub together. This can cause pain, stiffness, and other symptoms.
OA occurs most often in older people, although it can occur in adults of any age. OA is also called degenerative joint disease, degenerative arthritis, and wear-and-tear arthritis.
The swelling and pain from osteoarthritis can be overwhelming if it goes untreated, but a lot of the treatment for this condition is done at home.
“Movement therapy, alternating heat and cold and over-the-counter pain medication are the best courses of action,” Seaback said. “If osteoarthritis gets more severe, then prescription pain medication, injections or surgery may be necessary.”
Corticosteroid injections offer quick relief for 6 to 12 weeks, but they shouldn’t be used frequently. Using them too often may damage cells in the area that makes cartilage, and after multiple uses they become less effective. Surgery is often known as a “replacement surgery” and typically occurs in the hip, knee and shoulder. The surgery replaces the ends of bones that are in a damaged joint and creates a new joint surface.
When it comes to physical activity, Seaback recommends starting slow and maybe even hitting the pool.
“Water aerobics or tai chi are both great activities to look into if you have osteoarthritis,” Seaback said. “If someone doesn’t become active, the problems can snowball into the musculoskeletal system and can increase the risk of other dangers—like falling.”
OA is caused by joint damage. This damage can accumulate over time, which is why age is one of the main causes of the joint damage leading to osteoarthritis. The older you are, the more wear and tear you’ve had on your joints.
Other causes of joint damage include past injury, such as:
They also include joint malformation, obesity, and poor posture. Certain risk factors, such as family history and gender, increase your risk of osteoarthritis. Check out the most common causes of OA.
Osteoarthritis and cartilage
Cartilage is a tough, rubbery substance that’s flexible and softer than bone. Its job is to protect the ends of bones within a joint and allow them to move easily against each other.
When cartilage breaks down, these bone surfaces become pitted and rough. This can cause pain within the joint, and irritation in surrounding tissues. Damaged cartilage can’t repair itself. This is because cartilage doesn’t contain any blood vessels.
When cartilage wears away completely, the cushioning buffer that it provides disappears, allowing for bone-on-bone contact. This can cause intense pain and other symptoms associated with OA. Here’s what else you need to know about cartilage, joints, and osteoarthritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
Symptoms of osteoarthritis most often develop gradually and include:
Joint aching and soreness, especially with movement
Pain after overuse or after long periods of inactivity
Stiffness after periods of rest
Bony enlargements in the middle and end joints of the fingers (which may or may not be painful)
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