Do You Suffer Joint Pain And Stiffness? It Could Be Osteoarthritis.
Arthritis is a common condition that is a leading cause of disability and chronic joint pain in Australia. With over 100 different types of arthritis, the most common by far is osteoarthritis, followed closely by rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
Osteoarthritis is often referred to as ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis or ‘degenerative’ arthritis. There is a common belief that arthritis is simply a ‘consequence’ of getting old and that it cant be avoided. While osteoarthritis is certainly more prevalent in the older population, it isn’t considered by the medical world as a natural part of the ‘normal’ ageing process.
Any excessive strain on a joint creates pressure or friction on the joint surfaces, resulting in increased wear and tear of that joint. This excess wear and tear may be likened to a car’s brake pad that slowly wears away with each use. This repeated pressure or rubbing within the joint causes the joint surfaces to soften, fray, crack and erode. Excess joint strain most commonly occurs if a person is overweight, through joints being poorly aligned or when joints are overworked across a period of time. You are also more likely to develop osteoarthritis in a joint if it has been injured, in a fall or an accident for example.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis vary from person to person, depending on what joints are affected and how severe the osteoarthritis is. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness in the affected joint. The joints most often affected by osteoarthritis are the hips, knees, fingers and knuckles. If the hip or knee joints are involved it may affect your ability to walk or use stairs. If the hands are affected, you may have difficulty with opening jars or turning taps. In more severe cases of osteoarthritis, the movement of the joint might produce a clicking or crunching noise as the rough joint surfaces rub over each other.
Your doctor will be able to confirm whether or not you have osteoarthritis. An X-Ray will show signs of osteoarthritis, such as narrowing of the joint space and uneven joint surfaces, however the severity of the osteoarthritis seen in the X-Ray does not necessarily correspond with how severe your symptoms are. A blood test is not required to diagnose osteoarthritis, however sometimes your doctor may request one to help rule out other types of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, once present, is irreversible. There are, however, many ways to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Depending on the stage and severity of your oseoarthrits, some or all of the following options may help to relieve your symptoms:
- Gentle, moderate activity can help to reduce joint stiffness without adding too much extra strain on the joints. Short walks, hydrotherapy, thai chi and gentle group exercise classes are just a few ways to introduce exercise into your daily routine. A health professional such as your doctor or physiotherapist may be able to guide you as to which exercise program is best suited to your specific needs and goals.
- If you are overweight, any excess weight you are able to lose will significantly reduce the daily strain on your joints. To adopt a sensible weight loss plan that is realistic and medically safe, consult with your doctor or a qualified dietician.
- Medications such as mild pain killers and anti-inflammatories may help to manage some of the joint pain and joint stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate medications for you based on your current medical condition.
- Equipment such as braces, walking sticks, walking frames and even inner soles can be helpful to reduce the pressure on your joints during every day activities such as walking, shopping, gardening and doing house work.
- If the osteoarthritis is severe and causing significant disability, your doctor may recommend that you have joint replacement surgery. This means an operation to remove the affected joint and replacing it with an artificial joint.
- Supplements such as glucosamine or fish oil may help with the overall condition of joints. Always consult with a health practitioner such as your local doctor or a nutritionist regarding the most effective and safest options for your situation.
In summary, osteoarthritis is slow and irreversible damage to the joints caused by excessive strain over a period of time. It cannot be cured, but in most cases the symptoms of osteoarthritis can be managed so that pain and disability is minimised. If you suspect that you have osteoarthritis, consult with your doctor who will be able to assist with diagnosis and a management plan suited specifically to you.