Osteoarthritis affects millions of people worldwide and is the most common cause of joint pain. Most sufferers are middle to older age; it affects both men and women, although slightly more women are affected. It is caused by a slowly progressive inflammatory and destructive condition that damages the cartilage in joints. Individuals may be affected in only one joint, two joints, or multiple joints. The most commonly affected joint is the knee.
What causes osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis may be due to excessive wear and tear on the joint over time. In some cases it seems to be due to genetics causing the body to not have perfect alignment and structure, leading to excessive wear and tear on particular joints. Performing repetitive actions at work or in a hobby, or being overweight, can also lead to excessive wear and tear on joints. Osteoarthritis can in some cases be triggered by an injury, even a minor injury, or surgery on the joint, even minor arthroscopic surgery.
What are its symptoms?
Symptoms include pain, tenderness, stiffness, loss of flexibility, and grating sensations. The disease is progressive and tends to slowly get worse over time.
What treatments are available?
In the initial stages, exercise and weight loss can often significantly improve symptoms. Exercise, in particular low-impact exercises like swimming and water aerobics, yoga, or simply walking, are highly recommended. Over the counter medications like ibuprofen can help control pain and inflammation. Physical therapists can help devise exercise plans to strengthen muscles around the affected joint to relieve pain.
Are there treatments for more advanced disease?
If the disease is more advanced or limiting activity, joint injections may be helpful. Corticosteroid injections can relieve inflammation and pain for many months after each injection; however, their repeated use may also accelerate the cartilage degeneration in the joint. Joint lubricants like hyaluronic acid can also be injected into the knee; they need to be repeated regularly and may offer some relief, and seem to have no side effects.
Are there any alternative treatments?
Many people use dietary supplements that may contain components such as glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, hyaluronic acid, various herbs, green-lipped mussel extracts, and/or avocado-soybean oil extracts. Some people find these to be very effective. Fish oils can also be taken and may help to relieve inflammation. Acupuncture can offer pain relief to some people.
In severe cases or when the disease has progressed to cause significant disability, surgical joint replacement can be used to essentially cure the disease. The diseased knee joint is removed and a prosthetic joint is placed. With modern surgical techniques, recovery is very rapid and many people are able to resume their normal activities within a couple of weeks, although strenuous activities will need to be avoided for a few months until complete healing takes place.