Often referred to as the degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common variety of arthritis and it develops when the smooth cartilages that cushion the joints become rough and are then grinded down and deteriorate after years of daily usage. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint of the body. However, joints of the spine, the hips, the knees and the hands are most susceptible while joints of the jaws, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists and the ankles are most uncommon. Usually affecting a single joint, Osteoarthritis can also affect multiple joints at the same time.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis are many and they begin as mild and gradually, over a period of months or even years, progress to the very severe and debilitating stages. The following are the most frequently observed symptoms of this degenerative disease called osteoarthritis:
- Acute pain in the affected joint or joints which is felt most severely during or immediately after use, as well as after prolonged rest.
- The affected joint or joints can be quite tender, even when the lightest pressure is applied.
- Constant stiffness in the affected joint or joints which is most pronounced in the mornings and after any other periods of rest and inactivity.
- The affected joint or joints become so inflexible that any movement can be impossibly difficult.
- Usage of the affect joint or joints often feels like grating, grinding or creaking. These sensations are due to the fact that the bones are indeed rubbing against each other.
- Bone spurs may develop as hard bony lumps around the affect joint or joints.
- The affected joint or joints frequently become inflamed and swollen.
Causes and Risks of Osteoarthritis
It is not unequivocally known what exactly causes osteoarthritis but medical research points to a number of possible factors which may include heredity, the aging process, injuries of the joints, prolonged stress on specific joints, weakening of the muscles surrounding the joints and obesity.
Since osteoarthritis is rarely seen in patients of under the age of 40, medical researchers believe that the most at risk of developing osteoarthritis are the elderly. However, there are additional factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis and they are women who for inexplicable reasons suffer osteoarthritis more frequently than men; those born with deformed bones or joints; injuries to joints; the obese who force their joints to carry more weight than they were intended to; and various diseases of the joints and bones such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, Paget’s disease and septic arthritis.
Living with Osteoarthritis
Presently, there is no cure for osteoarthritis but there is a vast array of treatments that help relieve the pain and loosen stiffness to increase mobility. In the beginning stages when the pain is not overwhelming; rest, exercise and physical therapy, occupational therapy, hot and cold compresses, weight loss, over-the-counter pain creams, wearing braces or splints, and taking pain classes have all proven to be extremely helpful.
When the pain of osteoarthritis reaches moderate levels; medications are prescribed in addition to continuing with the treatments of the earlier stages. Such medications may include acetaminophen (Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or tramadol (Ultram).
When osteoarthritis reaches the severe levels of pain, stronger painkillers such as propoxyphene (Darvon) are prescribed along with injections of cortisone and hyaluronic acid-derivatives (Hyalgan, Synvisc). Ultimately and when all else fails, surgery to replace points, to clean the area around the joints (debridement), to realign bones or to fuse bones is advised.