What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting millions of people around the world and considered a leading cause of disability. It occurs when the protective cartilage tissue at the ends of the bones wears out over time.
Osteoarthritis can damage any joint in the body; however, it commonly affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis are usually treatable, although the damage to the joints cannot be repaired. Maintaining physical activity and a healthy weight and getting the necessary treatment may help slow disease progression, reduce pain, and improve joint function.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis symptoms develop gradually and worsen over time. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Pain. The patient may feel joint pain during or after movement.
- Stiffness. Joint stiffness becomes more pronounced when waking up or after being inactive for a while.
- Swelling. Inflammation of the soft tissues around a joint may be one of the causes.
- Pain upon touch. The joint may feel pain when gently pressed on or near it.
- Loss of flexibility. The patient may not be able to fully move the joint.
- A grating or crackling sensation. You may feel a grating sound when using the joint, and you may hear a crackling sound.
- Bone spurs. These small bone pieces, which appear as solid lumps, can form around the affected joint.
What are the causes of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage tissue that lines the bones in joints is gradually damaged. Cartilage tissue is a stable, sliding tissue that enables nearly friction-free joint movement. Ultimately, if the cartilage tissue wears out completely, the bones will rub against each other.
In addition to wearing out the cartilage, osteoarthritis affects the entire joint. It causes changes in the bones and erosion of the connective tissues that hold the joint together and connect muscle to bone. It also causes inflammation of the joint lining.
What are the risk factors of osteoarthritis?
Factors that can increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis include:
- Old age. The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases as you age.
- Sex. Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
- Obesity. Being overweight puts extra stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Also, adipose tissue produces proteins that may cause harmful inflammation in and around joints.
- Joint injuries. Injuries, such as those that occur during exercise or due to an accident, may increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
- Frequent pressure on the joint. If your job causes repetitive stress on a specific joint, that joint may eventually develop osteoarthritis.
- Joint malformation. Some people are born with deformed joints or defective cartilage.
- Genetics. Some people have a genetic predisposition to develop osteoarthritis.
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
Our specialist will do a physical exam and check your affected joints for tenderness, swelling, redness, and assess their flexibility.
- X-ray. Cartilages do not appear on x-rays, but cartilage loss is revealed by the narrowing of the space between the bones in your joint. An X-ray can also show bone spurs around a joint.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of bones and soft tissues, including cartilage. An MRI is usually not needed to diagnose osteoarthritis, but it may help provide more information in complex cases.
- Blood tests. Although there is no blood test to diagnose osteoarthritis, specific tests may help rule out other causes of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Joint fluid analysis. Your doctor may use a needle to draw fluid from the affected joint. The fluid is then examined to detect inflammation and to determine if the pain is due to gout or infection rather than osteoarthritis.
How is osteoarthritis treated?
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, several available treatments can help relieve the pain and discomfort caused by the symptoms and allow you to manage as much as possible.
- Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen (like Panadol®) has proven effective in osteoarthritis patients who experience mild to moderate pain.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs like Brufen or Voltaren. These drugs usually relieve osteoarthritis pain.
Physiotherapy. Our physiotherapist can show you exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint, increase your flexibility and reduce pain.
Occupational therapy. Our occupational therapist can help you explore ways to perform everyday tasks without putting pressure on your joints.
Cortisone injections. Injections of corticosteroid medications may ease your joint pain. During this procedure, your doctor will numb the area around the joint, and then a needle will be injected into the empty area of your joint.
Joint replacement. In a joint replacement surgery, your surgeon may remove damaged surface parts of your joint and replace them with plastic or metal parts.