What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a chronic inflammation of the joints that affects millions of people around the world. This condition occurs when the protective cartilage that supports the tip of your bones weakens over time.
Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint, it most commonly affects the joints in your hands, knees, hips, and spine.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis can usually be treated, although joint damage cannot be corrected. Staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and undergoing treatment can slow the progression of the disease and help improve pain and joint function.
Make an appointment with a rheumatologist through Smarter Health to find out the causes and the right treatment for your osteoarthritis condition.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in your joints gradually deteriorates. Cartilage is hard, slippery tissue, allowing nearly friction-free movement of the joints. Damage to cartilage can cause your bones to rub against each other.
Osteoarthritis is often referred to as bone wear disease. In addition to cartilage damage, osteoarthritis also affects the entire joint. This causes changes in the bone and damage to the connective tissue that holds the joint and attaches muscles to the bones – causing inflammation of the lining of the joints.
There are also other factors that can put you at risk of having osteoarthritis, including:
- Advanced age – the risk of osteoarthritis increases as you age.
- Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, although the reason is unclear
- Genetic factors.
- Bone deformity.
- Repetitive stress on joints.
- Joint injuries, such as during sports or accidents. Even if you have fully recovered from injuries that occurred years ago, you can still have the risk of osteoarthritis.
- Being overweight can affect osteoarthritis in many ways, including adding to the stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees.
- Certain metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and hemochromatosis
When to See a Doctor for Osteoarthritis
During the physical exam, your rheumatologist will check the affected joints. Diagnosis can be made through two types of tests: imaging tests and laboratory tests.
To see pictures of joints affected by osteoarthritis, your doctor may recommend:
- X-ray. Cartilage does not appear on the X-ray image, but cartilage loss is characterized by the narrowing of spaces/gaps between the bones in your joints. X-rays can also show bone spurs around the joint.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This procedure produces detailed images of bones and soft tissues, including cartilage. MRI is usually not necessary to diagnose osteoarthritis, but it can help provide more information in complex cases.
Analyzing blood or joint fluid can help your doctor in diagnosing osteoarthritis.
- Blood test. There is no blood test for osteoarthritis, but certain tests can help detect other causes of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Analysis of joint fluid. Your doctor may use a needle to take fluid from affected joints to be tested and determine the cause of pain other than osteoarthritis – such as gout or infection
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Symptoms of osteoarthritis will develop slowly and worsen over time. Be aware of the following signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis:
- The joint hurts during or after moving.
- Swelling may be due to inflammation of the soft tissue around the joint.
- Stiff joints may be most commonly felt when you are awake or after inactivity.
- Joints may feel soft when you put light pressure on or near them.
- Bone spurs that feel like hard lumps may form around joints affected by inflammation.
- Loss of flexibility – you may not be able to move the joint.
- Joint-popping sensation, any crunching, or popping that occurs when moving a joint
If you experience joint pain or persistent stiff joints, it is best to consult a rheumatologist.
Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but a number of treatments can help relieve pain and help you move better. Possible treatment options for osteoarthritis may include:
Medications that can help relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis, especially pain, include Paracetamol, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and Duloxetine (Cymbalta).
- Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the joints, increase flexibility, and reduce pain. It is recommended that you perform regular moderate exercises, such as swimming or walking.
- Occupational therapists can help you find ways to do activities without putting stress on the affected joints. For example, a toothbrush with a large grip can help you brush your teeth more easily if you have hand osteoarthritis. Placing a stool in the shower can help relieve pain when standing if you have knee osteoarthritis.
If the above treatments are not successful, you should consider treatment through surgical procedures such as:
- Cortisone injections. Your doctor will insert a needle into your joint. The number of cortisone injections per year is limited to three or four injections, as it can worsen joint damage over time.
- Joint lubricant shots. Hyaluronic acid injections may relieve pain by placing support in your knee. However, several studies have shown that this injection is just a placebo.
- Osteotomy. If osteoarthritis damages one side of your knee more than the other, an osteotomy can be an option. Your surgeon will cut the bone above or below the knee and remove or add bone incisions.
- Arthroplasty. Your surgeon will remove the surface of the damaged joint and replace it with plastic and metal. Possible post-surgery risks include infection, blood clots, wear and tear, and need of replacement.
Treatment Cost for Osteoarthritis
Treatment cost for osteoarthritis varies greatly, depending on the level of joint damage and treatment recommended by your doctor.
To calculate the estimated treatment cost for osteoarthritis at home and abroad, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Osteoarthritis
You can minimize your risk of developing osteoarthritis by avoiding injury and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
- If you are overweight, weight loss can help lower your risks of developing osteoarthritis.
- Maintain good posture. Make sure your work chair is positioned ideally.
- Avoid sports that can strain the joints and force them to bear excess weight, such as running and weight training. Try sports like swimming and cycling.
- Perform at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise such as cycling or brisk walking every week. You can add strength training into your regime for 2 or more days each week to maintain overall body health.
Home Remedies for Osteoarthritis
Exercising and losing weight are important ways to reduce joint pain and osteoarthritis.
- Exercise can increase body endurance and strengthen the muscles around the joints, making them more stable. You can walk, cycle, or do aerobics in water. Stop your activity if you experience new joint pain.
New joint pain for hours after exercising may be a sign that you exercise too much. Try to exercise again at a lower intensity level in the next day.
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Carrying extra weight will increase the stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as your knees and hips. Even the smallest amount of weight loss can relieve pressure and reduce pain.
Have more questions about osteoarthritis? Write them down in the comment section below or book a consultation with a rheumatologist at home and abroad through Smarter Health.