Osteoarthritis (also called OA, degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis) is the most common form of arthritis and a leading cause of chronic disability in Canada and many other countries. OA attacks the joints and destroys cartilage ultimately resulting in bone to bone contact and considerable pain and loss of function for the afflicted.
Osteoarthritis Symptoms include:
- Stiff, painful joints.
- Reduced range of motion in the joints.
- Swelling around the joints.
- Cracking or grinding sound during joint movement.
Who Gets Osteoarthritis?
Risk factors for OA include obesity, aging and joint injury but as a rule OA does not discriminate. It affects people of all races and both sexes. It usually strikes people over the age of 40 but has been known to afflict those as young as 20. (Usually, however, those cases are instigated by some form of repetitive joint stress or injury to the joint.)
Diagnosis for Osteoarthritis
Diagnosis of OA is usually based on symptoms noted by the doctor during a physical examination. In some cases however, more involved diagnostic methods may be recommended such as:
- X-rays – Although it’s likely the doctor will be able to diagnose OA during a simple physical exam, X-rays can be useful tools to confirm the diagnosis. The major advantage of X-rays is the details they can reveal about the state of your joints.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – Like X-rays the MRI is primarily useful in filling in the diagnostic blank spaces, particularly when it comes to assessing OA-related damage to knees, spine, hips and shoulders.
Treatment of Osteoarthritis
OA treatment focuses on several main areas of concern: pain management, weight control, improved joint function and lifestyle adjustments.
• Pain Management – For less intense pain doctors will recommend the use of acetaminophen. If this proves inadequate NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) like ibuprofen may be prescribed. In extreme cases corticosteroids may be recommended. Non-drug treatments such as massage, acupuncture and various nutritional supplements have also demonstrated varying degrees of effectiveness in the battle against OA-related pain.
• Weight Control – For overweight individuals a strict weight control regime is crucial in arresting the pain associated with osteoarthritis. No effective pain management and abatement scheme can be devised if the patient’s weight remains well beyond that of medically advisable norms.
• Joint Function – Physical therapies focused on regaining or retaining flexibility in OA affected joints is an important part of an overall OA treatment plan. In some cases however, the doctor may determine that a particular joint is beyond the ability of therapy or medicine to help, and may advise joint replacement surgery.
• Lifestyle – Lifestyle changes needed to ensure a successful treatment plan often focus on finding ways to reduce stress on OA affected joints while simultaneously finding ways to improve joint function. In many cases a program of low-impact aerobics has proven beneficial in alleviating pain while also helping patients achieve their weight loss goals.
Osteoarthritis affects tens of millions of people around the world. While there is no cure at this time there are increasingly effective treatment plans that can assist patients in arresting OA’s symptoms and regaining control over their lives.