Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis that affects over 32.5 million adults in the United States alone. OA occurs when the joint cartilage between your bones is damaged or breaks down, causing pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and swelling. It is more common in older adults and is commonly referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis. OA may occur with other forms of arthritis and may be a primary or secondary medical condition.
Osteoarthritis develops slowly and worsens over time. Any joint is susceptible to OA, but the knees, hips, hands, spine, and big toes are the most commonly affected joints. Some living with this form of arthritis are no longer able to do daily tasks or work, while others have few symptoms or are asymptomatic.
Like other rheumatological disorders, osteoarthritis cannot be prevented. You can slow its progression and reduce the severity of OA by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight, and protecting your joints. Arthritis is a genetic condition, so having other family members affected by one or more forms of arthritis increases the probability you will develop arthritis.
Those living with osteoarthritis experience 30% more falls and have an increased risk of fractures or other serious injuries than those who do not. Some treatment options may increase fatigue or dizziness, which can contribute to falls. Pain from OA can be debilitating and impair your ability to exercise, so those living with OA are at an increased risk for developing high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Maintaining a healthy diet can help decrease this risk.
There is no cure for any form of arthritis, but many protective factors and treatment options are available. Learning to manage osteoarthritis is critical, and many doctors recommend pain management therapy to teach those with arthritis coping strategies for living with intense, chronic pain that limits their ability to perform routine tasks.
Other treatment options include:
Increasing physical activity: While osteoarthritis can make exercise nearly impossible, exercise can help reduce pain and decrease joint stiffness. Low impact exercise programs such as walking, swimming, biking, and yoga can help decrease your symptoms. Strong muscles surrounding your joints ensure the joint remains in its proper place and can help reduce overall joint pain.
Joint stabilization exercises and functional mobility training
Physical or occupational therapy
Over-the-counter pain relievers or creams, such as Biofreeze, IcyHot, or Voltaren
Prescription medication: biological medication to slow the progression of OA, prescription pain medication, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications
Osteotomy or realignment of bones in your knees
Using mobility devices, such as braces, canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, to provide stability and assistance with daily tasks
Surgery: Joint surgery can improve function or replace damaged joints but is typically a last resort treatment option. Many surgeons will not perform a hip or knee replacement until patients are of a certain age because artificial joints are typically considered short-term solutions.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis increase in prevalence and severity over time. Symptoms include:
Pain or aching in joints
Joint stiffness in the morning or after remaining in one position for too long
Periodic limited range of motion or weakness in your joints
Joint instability or buckling
Joints feeling warm to the touch
Grating sensation in joints
Swelling or redness around joints
You may experience worsening of symptoms when the atmospheric pressure falls or depending on the foods you consume.
Before visiting a medical professional, document the severity, duration, and frequency of any symptoms you experience. You will first see a primary care physician, who will ask about your medical history and familial history of any rheumatological disorders before conducting a physical examination and ordering bloodwork. Although osteoarthritis cannot be diagnosed by a blood test, your doctor will still order laboratory testing to eliminate other types of arthritis and other rheumatological disorders.
Your primary care physician will refer you to a rheumatologist if your blood work confirms you have a form of arthritis. Rheumatologists specialize in diagnosing and treating rheumatological conditions, such as OA, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, and fibromyalgia. They may order an x-ray or MRI to further inspect joint, bone, and cartilage damage. They may also perform a joint aspiration to rule out other medical conditions or other forms of arthritis.
Polyarticular osteoarthritis – OA affecting 5 or more joints simultaneously
Oligoarticular osteoarthritis – simultaneously affects 4 or fewer joints, typically the larger joints
Idiopathic osteoarthritis – most common form of OA and indicates the cause for cartilage deterioration is unknown
OA occurs when the cartilage located in your joints deteriorates until your bones grind against each other. Risk factors for OA include:
Age – Older people are more likely than younger people to develop OA.
Gender – Women are more likely to develop OA than men.
Joint injuries or repeated stress on a joint
Certain metabolic disorders, such as diabetes or hemochromatosis
Around 80% of adults aged 55 years or older have X-ray evidence of OA, and an estimated 60% of those adults are symptomatic.