Osteoarthritis affects people of all ages, but it usually starts occurring as we get older.
While osteoarthritis is more common in women, the development of this disease is also linked to obesity, age and excess stress from lifestyle.
Roughly 27 million Americans have been diagnosed with OA.
That being said, nearly 50% of us will develop symptomatic OA by age 85.
What Is Osteoarthritis Exactly?
The term osteoarthritis comes from Greek the word “arthros”, meaning a joint and its attachments. “Itis”, meaning inflammation.
Osteoarthritis is a breakdown of the cartilage in the joints and discs.
The cartilage begins to lose its elasticity which makes it more susceptible to damage.
Cartilage is the slippery tissue which covers the ends of the bones in a joint.
This slippery surface allow the bones to glide across each other with the least amount of friction while also serving as shock absorber.
In osteoarthritis, the top layer of cartilage wears away to the point where it leaves the exposed bones under the cartilage to rub together.
This leads to inflammation, swelling and loss of mobility.
The joints may even start to deform while bone spurs begin to develop on the edges of the joint.
These bone spurs only ad to the misery as they begin to break off and float inside the joint space.
Osteoarthritis affects joints such as the hips, hands, feet, shoulders, knees, spine and neck.
Unlike other forms of arthritis which affect the organs too, OA only affects the joints.
How Is It Diagnosed?
There are 2 types of OA, namely symptomatic osteoarthritis and radiographic osteoarthritis.
It is possible to have either one of these or both.
Symptomatic, simply means that the person is experiencing the symptoms.
Radiographic, means that the condition has been diagnosed through observation by x-ray.
There is often a discrepancy between the symptoms and joint damage when observing x-ray however.
The first indicator for individuals affected by osteoarthritis often comes as stiffness in the joints become evident after extended periods of rest or overuse.
This could occur after getting out of bed and may become painful from overuse during the day.
Sufferers may experience swelling and tenderness in several joints.
The sound of bone rubbing together also becomes evident and a painful crunching feeling spikes when moving in certain positions.
Osteoarthritis is often misdiagnosed as there are other conditions which may be confused with it.
Conditions which may interfere with the diagnosis of osteoarthritis include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Rheumatoid disease
Several tests may have to be performed in order to correctly diagnose OA.
- Physical exam
- Medical history check
- Blood tests
- Testing for the fluid of the joint
What Causes OA?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint condition which is caused by a number of factors.
Age is the main reason for developing OA.
That said, there are several other factors do contribute to becoming more susceptible to the condition.
Women over the age of 50 are more likely to develop OA than men.
Both genders are equally susceptible to arthritis however.
Being overweight increases risk to the knees, hips and spine, as extra weight equals additional stress on joints.
Any excess stress on the joints will contribute towards the cartilage deteriorating faster.
Sports related injuries and other accidents may contribute towards developing osteoarthritis, especially if the injury occurs near a joint.
Injuries which may lead to developing osteoarthritis include ligament injuries, dislocated joints, torn cartilage and knee trauma such as ACL tears and strains.
Overuse of joints contributes to the deterioration.
This may include work or sports-related overuse.
In this regard, osteoarthritis may be referred to as wear-and-tear disease.
Individuals doing physical labour are at a higher risk of OA.
Excessively kneeling, squatting or climbing stairs will place more strain on the hands, knees and hips.
Research has indicated a strong link to hereditary factors.
Some individuals may inherit a defective gene which cause cartilage to deteriorate faster.
Genes may also be attributed to joints which do not develop properly.
Other Conditions (secondary arthritis)
Individuals who have been diagnosed with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or gout are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Bleeding disorders like hemophilia or avascular necrosis (blockage of blood flow) also contribute greatly towards contracting OA.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation can be acute or chronic and it is the body’s natural response to infection and injury.
Inflammation is the body’s only natural defense, which is the beginning of the healing process.
This protective response involves proteins, blood vessels and host cells.
Symptoms include swelling, pain, redness and possibly even loss of movement.
The process begins when pro-inflammatory hormones in your body call out for your white blood cells to come and clear out infection and damaged tissue.
The white blood cells are matched by equally anti-inflammatory compounds.
These agents move in once the threat is neutralized and begin the healing process.
How To Deal With Osteoarthritis
There is no known cure for OA.
The main goal of treatment is to improve the function of the affected joints and ease the pain.
Most people who require osteoarthritis treatment will benefit from a combination of lifestyle changes.
Everyone is different, which means that everyone will respond to treatments differently.
If you have recently been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, you may not know much about the disease.
Besides doctors, there are other care providers who can help you with pain treatment, weight management and more.
Why not visit a:
- Massage therapist
- Physical therapist
- Social worker
For more information on how to treat OA, please read Treating Osteoarthritis Naturally.