Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that is characterized by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is a protein-based substance that cushions the bones in a joint. Once it wears away, it cannot usually be regenerated (– though some research is being done in cartilage regeneration as a therapy option).
Osteoarthritis is most common form of arthritis; it appears with the highest frequency in the knee according to the Center for Disease Control:
- “Nearly 1 in 2 people may develop symptomatic knee OA by age 85.”
- “Two out of three obese people may develop symptomatic knee OA in their lifetime.”
- “One out of four people may develop painful hip arthritis in their lifetime.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Pain and stiffness in the joints
- Cracking, grinding, popping noises with joint movement
- Limited mobility/loss of flexibility due to impaired joint function
- Knobby swelling of the affected joint
- Bone spurs around the joint
Patients with osteoarthritis of the knee may find that their knee is stiff when getting out of bed in the morning. Going up or down stairs and getting in or out of chairs may be painful. Pain may increase with activity.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
The cause of osteoarthritis is deterioration of cartilage in the joints. What causes this deterioration, however, is not entirely known. Certain genetic traits and behavioral/lifestyle habits may put an individual at an increased risk for developing osteoarthritis. See below.
Osteoarthritis Risk Factors
- Risk increases with age
- Women are more likely to develop OA than men
- Having a bone deformity
- Having had a previous joint injury
- Repetitive strain on the joints (occupation-related)
- Being overweight
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes,
- Improper joint alignment
- Lack of physical activity
Testing for & Diagnosing Osteoarthritis
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, then your physician may perform several tests to observe the movement of your knee, hip, ankle, wrist, or other painful joint. Your physician may also check your muscle strength, range of motion, ligament stability, and reflexes.
If OA is suspected, then an x-ray or other medical imaging test may be used to evaluate joint deterioration.
There is no known cure for osteoarthritis. However, symptoms may be managed and further damage prevented through medication, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, orthotics, and surgery.
Medication – Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are first-line therapy options for patients with OA symptoms. More aggressive drug therapy options include:
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
- Artificial joint fluid
Lifestyle Changes – Weight loss, healthy diet, and physician-approved exercise habits can all help reduce the pain of OA. See ‘Living With Osteoarthritis’ below for more information.
Physical Therapy – A therapist works with patients to improve muscle strength and increase range of motion. Massage therapy may also be tried for joint pain relief.
Orthotics – Some patients may benefit from a brace or splint. These devices may prevent unhealthy joint movements.
Regenerative Medicine – Dr. Melmed prefers to use amniotic membrane stem cell injections, which use naturally occurring growth factors to help regenerate damaged cartilage, ligaments, and joints.
Surgery – Many patients discover relief they never thought possible through surgery. There are different types of surgery for osteoarthritis, including arthroscopic surgery to remove diseased cartilage, alignment surgery, fusion surgery, and joint replacement surgery.
Living With Osteoarthritis
As a patient, it’s important that you take a proactive, involved role in the treatment of your osteoarthritis. There is a lot that you can do to reduce risk, manage symptoms, and limit additional damage to the joints.
Studies have found, for example, that female patients who lose as little as 11 pounds can reduce their risk for developing knee osteoarthritis by 50 percent. Another study has found that older adults with knee osteoarthritis who engage in moderate physical activity at least three times per week can reduce their risk of arthritis-related disability by 47 percent.
Ask our physician for more information about what you can do to manage your symptoms and improve your outcome.