Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. This is followed by chronic inflammation of the joint lining. Healthy cartilage is a cushion between the bones in a joint. Osteoarthritis usually affects the hands, feet, spine, hips, and knees. People with osteoarthritis usually have joint pain and limited movement of the affected joint.
Osteoarthritis is associated with aging. The exact cause is unclear. As osteoarthritis develops, you experience loss of cartilage, bone spurs around the joint, and muscle weakness of the extremity.
These factors increase your chance of developing osteoarthritis. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include:
There is no treatment that stops cartilage loss or repairs cartilage that is damaged. The goal of treatment is to reduce joint pain and inflammation and to improve joint function.
Treatments may include:
Some doctors report that acupuncture has been successful in reducing the pain of osteoarthritis, although the evidence is not consistent.
Shoes with shock-absorbing soles may provide some relief while you are doing daily activities or exercising. Splints or braces help to properly align joints and distribute weight. Knee and wrist joints may benefit from elastic supports. A neck brace or corset may relieve back pain . Also, a firm mattress may help chronic back pain. Canes , crutches , walkers , and orthopedic shoes also can help those with advanced osteoarthritis in the lower body.
Losing weight can lessen the stress on joints affected by osteoarthritis. Losing five pounds can eliminate at least 15 pounds of stressful impact for each step taken. The more weight lost, the greater the benefit.
Strengthening the muscles supporting an arthritic joint (particularly the knee, lower back, and neck) may decrease pain and absorb energy around the joint. For example, if you have arthritis in the knee, exercise, including strength training, can also help improve knee function.
Swimming and water aerobics are good options because they do not put stress on the joint.
Another option is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). With TENS, you are connected to a machine that sends electrical signals through the skin to nerves. This type of therapy may decrease pain in some people.
If you are having difficulty getting around due to arthritis pain, your doctor might recommend that you install handrails and grips throughout your home. These are useful in the bathroom and shower. You may need elevated seats (including toilet seats) if you're having difficulty rising after sitting.
Applying heat (with hot water bottles or heating pads) helps joints and muscles move more easily. It can also lessen pain. Using ice packs after activity can also help.
Corticosteroid injections to the inflamed joint may be given if other pain medicines do not work. Because repeated cortisone injections can be harmful to the cartilage, they are reserved for those with severe symptoms.
To reduce your chance of getting osteoarthritis:
American College of Rheumatology
The Arthritis Foundation
The Arthritis Society
Seniors Canada On-line
American College of Rheumatology Subcommittee on Osteoarthritis. Recommendations for the medical management of osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. 2000 update. Arthritis Rheum . 2000;43:1905-1915.
Arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis/default.asp . Published July 2002. Updated May 2006. Accessed June 9, 2008.
Jordan K, Arden N, Doherty M, et al. EULAR recommendations 2003: an evidence based approach to the management of knee osteoarthritis: report of a task force of the Standing Committee for International Clinical Studies Including Therapeutic Trials (ESCISIT). Ann Rheum Dis . 2003;62:1145-1155.
Osteoarthritis. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatment website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=114 . Accessed March 4, 2008.
van den Berg WB. Pathophysiology of osteoarthritis. Joint Bone Spine . 2000;67:555-556.
10/21/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Fransen M, McConnell S. Exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;CD004376.
12/11/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Rutjes WJ, Nuesch E, Sterchi R, et al. Transcutaneous electrostimulation for osteoarthritis of the knee. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(4):CD002823.
Last reviewed September 2009 by Jill D. Landis, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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