What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis that is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage of the joints. It is a degenerative disease, and also referred to as the "wear and tear" of osteoarthritis. It can affect almost any joint in the body but commonly occurs in the weight bearing joints of the hips, spine and knees. This condition can also affect other joints such as the hands and feet.
Cartilage is a firm substance that cushions the bones of the joints, and acts as a shock absorber and allows for easier movement. When cartilage breaks down and starts to wear away, it causes the bones to rub against other. This results in pain, stiffness and loss of movement.
There are two types of osteoarthritis – primary and secondary. Primary osteoarthritis is described as "the wear and tear" osteoarthritis and is associated with aging. Most people will be affected by primary arthritis at some point in their lives. It often develops quietly before any pain or stiffness is noticed. Secondary osteoarthritis develops as a result of an underlying cause such as injury, trauma, obesity, inflammatory, hormonal imbalances or disorders, metabolic, developmental, or connective tissue diseases.
Osteoarthritis is estimated to affect over 20 million people in the United States. It tends to occur more often as we age, striking males before age 45 and females, after 55 years. Osteoarthritis gradually worsens over time. While some people only experience moderate symptoms, the pain and stiffness of this condition interferes with the day-to-day living for many others.
Symptoms and Signs
The most common symptoms and signs of osteoarthritis include:
- Joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Deformed joints
- Creaking and cracking of joints
- Loss of motion and co-ordination
The diagnosis of osteoarthritis is based on your physical symptoms as well as medical history. During the examination your physician will check the affected area for swelling, tenderness, loss of motion, or a pattern of damaged joints, typically thumb base or the top two finger joints. To confirm the diagnosis of osteoarthritis, certain tests which include x-rays, joint aspiration or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are ordered.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
The exact cause of osteoarthritis is not known. There are several factors that contribute to the development of osteoarthritis and include:
Diseases associated with Osteoarthritis include:
Help for Osteoarthritis
There are a wide variety of treatment options available for osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects everyone differently and symptoms may vary in intensity – some people may experience very severe pain while others may have mild or no pain.
Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen or topical analgesics may help with mild pain while prescriptive NSAIDs, steroidal injections and opioid analgesics are often administered for more severe pain and swelling. Self-care and management of osteoarthritis is also very important.
Regular exercise that includes a strengthening and stretching program is excellent for this condition and helps to maintain motion and flexibility. Eating properly, maintaining a healthy weight and getting enough sleep is essential for managing osteoarthritis.
Heat and ice therapy as well as supportive devices such as canes, crutches or walkers can also provide temporary relief. Other treatment options include physical therapy, occupational therapy, TENS, acupuncture, and massage to help ease joint discomfort and pain. More serious episodes of osteoarthritis may require surgery where the damaged joint is replaced.
More Information on Osteoarthritis
More and more people are choosing natural and holistic remedies over conventional medicine to treat osteoarthritis. Although conventional medicine can treat pain effectively, they have some harsh side effects while natural treatments such as herbal and homeopathic remedies are safer and gentler to use on the body.
Herbal ingredients such as Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw) and Glucosamine sulphate contain powerful properties that are beneficial for joint, cartilage, muscle and back health. In addition, Boswellia serata also promotes joint and muscle mobility and helps to restore the digestive system.
There are various ways to help you cope with and manage Osteoarthritis.
Follow these helpful tips to make your life easier:
- Eat a healthy, well balanced diet to maintain your overall health and wellbeing
- Exercise regularly by walking, swimming or cycling to strengthen muscles and encourage mobility and flexibility
- Maintain a healthy weight as being overweight puts extra strain on the joints (hips, knees and balls of the feet)
- Avoid excessive physical activity and be careful when lifting heavy objects
- Maintain a good posture to distribute your weight evenly throughout your body
- Use assistive devices (cane, walker, crutches, splint or gripping tools) or orthotics (wedged insoles or cushioned shoes) to avoid excessive strain on your joints
- Make adjustments at the workplace that will enable you to be more comfortable – modify the workplace, change to light duty position, or find a job that is easier to cope with
- Increase your intake of vitamin C, D, E as well as antioxidants, glucosamine and chondroitin into your diet
- Apply hot or cold packs onto the affected area to relieve and soothe pain
- Use the right sports equipment when exercising – this will help to avoid injuries
- Reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, visualization, meditation or yoga
- Maintain a positive attitude by making time to do things that you enjoy
- Surround yourself with family and friends and help them to understand your condition
- Join a support group where you can interact and share experiences with others living with osteoarthritis