Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. You may have experienced symptoms such as pain, stiffness or swelling, and wondered whether you might have the condition.
In this blog, we ask exactly what osteoarthritis is, examine its causes and symptoms, and look at how you can find the right treatment.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a condition which occurs when the cartilage cushioning the ends of the bones gradually wears down. The condition can affect any joint, but you are more likely to experience it in the knee, hands, hips, and spine.
While the damage which osteoarthritis does to the joints cannot be reversed, it is possible to manage osteoarthritis symptoms – including the symptoms of knee arthritis – and we will talk more about treatment options later in this piece.
What are the causes of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in at least one joint deteriorates over time. This degeneration causes the bone surfaces to become rough, which causes pain and irritates the tissues surrounding the joint. The underlying cause of osteoarthritis is not yet known – while cartilage degeneration can be a normal part of ageing, the condition does not develop in everyone.
There are certain risk factors which have been linked to osteoarthritis, including: being a woman, being an older person (as osteoarthritis risk increases with age), having a joint injury, being obese, osteoarthritis running in your family, repeatedly stressing a certain joint, having specific metabolic diseases, and having bone deformities.
What are the symptoms for osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis symptoms can include: stiffness, which can be most noticeable when waking up; pain, which can occur during or after exercise; a restricted range of motion; tenderness, especially when pressure is applied on the joint; swelling, when soft tissue around the joint becomes inflamed; bone spurs, which are hard lumps that can form around the joint; and a feeling of ‘grating’ when the joint is used.
Find the right treatment for osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis pain can be treated by a number of medications, including; acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and duloxetine.
Other conservative treatments include different types of therapy, such as: physical therapy, which can involve an exercise programme designed to strengthen the muscles around the joint and improve range of motion, reducing pain; and occupational therapy, learning new ways of performing everyday tasks without putting undue stress on the affected joint. Depending on the damaged joint, this could include putting a bench in the shower to make washing easier or using a toothbrush with a larger grip.
When conservative treatments have proven ineffective, there are a number of procedures which can be used, including: lubrication injections, which can offer relief by providing more cushioning in the joint; cortisone injections, which administer medication via a needle placed within the joint; the realignment of bones, using an osteotomy; or a joint replacement, which involves the removal of the damaged joint surfaces, replacing them with metal and plastic parts – this is a common form of knee surgery for osteoarthritis.