Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs most often in older people. This disease affects the tissue covering the ends of bones in a joint (cartilage).In a person with osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes damaged and worn out causing pain, swelling, stiffness and restricted movement in the affected joint. This condition most commonly affects the joints in hips, knees, hands, and spine. Rarely, the disease may affect the shoulders, wrists and feet.
Causes and risk factors
Osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing out of the cartilage covering the bone ends in a joint. This may be due to being overweight, excessive strain over prolonged periods of time, previous fracture, growth abnormalities, joint diseases, injury or deformity.
Some people have congenital abnormalities of the joints-for example, Perthes’ disease of the Hips-that cause early degeneration and subsequently cause osteoarthritis.
The common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Joint pain that often gets worse after exercise or excessive pressure on a joint
- Joint stiffness particularly in the morning
- Cracking or grinding noise with joint movement
- Decreased function of the joint
Doctors diagnose osteoarthritis with a medical history, physical exam and x-rays of the affected joint. During the physical examination your doctor will examine the affected joint for swelling, pain, tenderness, and assess the joint’s range of motion. An X-ray of the affected joint may show a loss of the joint space and bone spur formation.
There is no blood test for osteoarthritis.
Management of Osteoarthritis
Conservative Treatment Options
There are several treatments and lifestyle modifications that can help you ease your pain and symptoms.
- Medications: Pain-relieving medications such as NSAIDs, COX-2 inhibitors and opioids may be prescribed. Topical medications such as ointments can be applied over the skin where there is pain. If the pain is very severe, corticosteroid injection can be given directly into the affected joint to ease the pain
- Other Treatments: Your physiotherapist will teach you exercises to keep joints flexible and improve muscle strength. Heat/cold therapy which involves applying heat or cold packs to the joints provides temporary pain relief. Lifestyle modifications can be done to control weight and avoid extra stress on the weight-bearing joints
Joint replacement surgery is considered as an option when the pain is so severe that it affects your ability to carry out normal activities.