What Is Osteoarthritis?

07.17.15 What is Osteoarthritis?
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Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of chronic joint pain. Also the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that happens from the overuse of the joints over time. Frequently caused from athletics, injury, excessive weight gain, and aging,osteoarthritis is a gradual breakdown of the cartilage surroundingthe bones located at the joints where the protective cushioning eventually can disappear. Unfortunately, there is no cure or medication to undo the damage caused by osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

If you feel pain in your joints lasting more than a few weeks, then it's always a good rule of thumb to consult a medical professional. Often people think of arthritis as something affecting the elderly, therefore, symptoms can be ignored or passed off as a short-term ""stiff neck"" or sore joints.Usually by the time someone begins to feel chronic pain in the joints and other conditions have been ruled out, the diagnosis of osteoarthritis means the cartilage had been wearing away long before symptoms appeared.With chronic stiffness the pain usually doesn't easily subside. When pain continues it's a sign symptoms are worsening and it's time to get help.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis can start out subtle. You may experience stiffness or pain in your neck, lower back, hip, knees or ankles. Sometimes these symptoms are accompanied by a loss of flexibility where you notice you cannot move the area a certain direction. Other symptoms can include a grating sensation you might be able to feel or even hear when you move a certain area. You may even notice bone spurs, which feel or appear to be lumps protruding from a joint area and can be a sign the symptoms have been ongoing. When any of these symptoms are noticeable with recurring pain or stiffness it's important to be evaluated.

Causes of osteoarthritis

As with any form of joint disease, there can be many causes of osteoarthritis. Because osteoarthritis happens when protective cartilage along the joints deteriorates from repeat wear and tear, the joint motion no longer functions as it should. When bones scrape against bones pain is inevitable. The causes for such damage really do vary.

With each joint in our bodies, the scraping away of cartilage can come from age, genetics, injury, obesity and overuse. When young athletes repeatedly injure a specific joint-the knees or ankles for example-initial symptoms may include pain with swelling, which eventually subside with ice, physical therapy and sometimes medication. When the same area gets reinjured, treated and used under the same conditions over an extended period of months or years, protection and benefit of the slippery cushion of cartilage disappears. Athletes with osteoarthritisof the knees and ankles can begin to limp over time due to swollen joints and can also develop deformities such as bone spurs. Because these are also weight bearing joints, osteoarthritis of the knees and ankles can also be caused by obesity.Limping, pain and swelling can become difficult for patients since medications do not reverse the damage of osteoarthritis, and eventually lead patients to undergo complete knee-replacement surgery.

In certain cases osteoarthritis can be caused by aging and genetic predisposition. Arthritis in the hands and fingers can be caused by certain occupations and overuse, for example, when a job requires repetitive stress on a certainjoint. But for many sufferers, the swollen joints in the hands, especially for females, can be something that will happen with age. The swollen joints in the fingers can develop bone spurs which appear as bumpy nodes which can cause limited mobility in those joints. The nodes may appear without pain, but can be helpful in identifying the type of arthritis a patient may have as well as other symptoms. The type of node-causing osteoarthritis in the finger joints is often common in many femaleswithin the same families.

Osteoarthritis in the neck and lower back can often be caused by repeat use, injury or aging. Working in an office chair for more than eight hours a day can cause stiffness in the lower back due to the strain on the bones and cartilage rubbing together while holding the body in a seated position-an unnatural posture for the human spine. The same can be said for neck posture when using a computer or handheld device. The wearing away of cartilage occurs from the repeat pulling or strain of the spine. Though the bones in the spine are small, the cartilage easily wears away whether from over-sitting or heavy lifting. When bone spurs begin to form on the spine what eventually causes the most obvious, severe pain, are the bones pinching the spinal nerves. Often numbness in other parts of the body is caused by theses pinched nerves due to the onset of osteoarthritis in the neck or lower back. Unfortunately the extreme pain of these symptoms is difficult and frustrating for patients to manage.

Treating the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Unlike other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout-where specific medications are available to help improve the conditions-with osteoarthritis, measures can onlybe taken to help with pain management and to increase mobility.Patients often will try anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxers or home remedies to help deal with stiffness. Some simply ignore pain and continue typical activities. The best way to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis is to stop, listen to your body and get to the source-find out when and how you may have injured or overused the affected area. Fortunately there are many forms of therapy to help get through the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Initially some people try medications to alleviate pain. Tylenol, or acetaminophen, helps with pain relief, but not inflammation. Another over-the-counter medication that helps with pain relief through the reduction of inflammation is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, Advil, naproxen and Aleve. Some patients are prescribed larger doses of anti-inflammatory medications or prescription narcotics when the pain from osteoarthritis has become severe. While medication is useful in treating pain from osteoarthritis during the initial diagnosis phase, each comes with possible, dangerous side effects including liver or kidney damage, stomach pain and nausea, and oftentimes dependence.

Other forms of treatment to help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis are physical therapy, chiropractic therapy, occupational therapy, stretching and sometimes yoga. When joint pain is severe, the most important thing is rest, heat application and ice for at least 24 hours. Eventually physical therapy helps by having an exercise plan designed to strengthen muscles around the damaged joints, which works toward increasing your range of motion. Occupational therapy helps to devise new ways to approach daily at-home and work routines, and offers advice for using special tools-such as arch supporting shoe inserts, lumbar supports, braces, foot benches, or even standing office desks-all to help alleviate painful joints throughout your day. Regardless of your preferred form of therapy, it's equally important to work with your doctor to develop an exercise and weight-management regimen to help prevent further joint damage and pain caused by osteoarthritis.

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