It is estimated that as many as 27 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, a chronic condition caused by the gradual wearing away of the cartilage in the joints. Arthritis pain is one of the most common causes of disability in the United States.

Osteoarthritis pain can affect any joint in the body, including the hands, fingers, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and spine. Over time, the condition can cause bone spurs to form in the affected joints, leading to permanent joint damage. OA cannot be cured, but there are a number of treatments available. Here’s what you should know about osteoarthritis and treatment:

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis refers to over 100 different conditions that cause inflammation in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout are all forms of arthritis that have different symptoms and underlying causes.

OA is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when the soft cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones gradually wears away. As the cartilage wears away, the bones grind against one another, causing significant pain, stiffness and swelling. As the immune system works to repair OA-related injuries, inflammation, bone spurs and abnormal tissue growth can occur. This can cause the joints to become permanently deformed and impair joint mobility. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease. This means that the condition gets worse over time.

Risk Factors for Developing Osteoarthritis

The biggest risk factor for osteoarthritis is aging. The majority of individuals who have been diagnosed with arthritis are 65 or older.

Additional factors that increase the risk of osteoarthritis:

  • Excess weight – People who are obese are at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees and spine. Chronic obesity may also speed the breakdown of cartilage in arthritic joints.
  • Being female – Women over the age of 45 are three times more likely than men of the same age to develop osteoarthritis.
  • Joint injury – Individuals who experience a joint tear or ligament rupture are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
  • Overuse – Individuals who work in jobs that require regular physical activity like lifting and bending may undergo earlier cartilage breakdown in their joints.
  • Genetics – There is a strong link between genetics and the development of osteoarthritis in later life.

Many people with thinning joint cartilage have no symptoms of OA. In these cases, lifestyle adjustments may be necessary to slow the progression of the disease. Losing weight and choosing lower-impact exercise are two ways a person can lower his or her risk of developing OA.

Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Individuals with early-stage OA may find pain relief from rest, exercise and over-the-counter pain relievers like NSAIDs. Many individuals use physical therapy to strengthen important muscles and maintain range of motion in diseased joints. Unfortunately, these treatments may stop providing relief as the disease progresses. In these cases, more advanced treatments may be necessary. Joint replacement surgery is often recommended for individuals whose arthritis symptoms are no longer responding to traditional treatment methods. A total or partial joint replacement removes a joint damaged by arthritis and replaces it with metal, ceramic or plastic prostheses. With advances in joint replacement science and techniques, the majority of artificial joints are still successful 10 years after surgery.

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