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General Information About Osteoarthritis. 

 June 19, 2024

By  Linda Rook

various painful joint in your body.

Introduction.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that mainly affects the cartilage, the flexible tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Unlike other forms of arthritis, which are inflammatory and can affect multiple body systems. OA is characterized by the wear and tear of cartilage over time. As the cartilage deteriorates, bones begin to rub against each other, causing pain, swelling, and decreased mobility. This condition is most common in the elderly but can affect adults of any age, particularly those with a history of joint injuries or genetic predisposition.

The Global Impact of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 32.5 million adults in the United States alone. Globally, it is a leading cause of disability, impacting individuals' ability to perform everyday tasks and reducing their quality of life. The economic burden of OA is significant, with costs associated with medical treatments, lost productivity, and long-term care.

The Goals of This blog

This blog I shall explore the understanding of osteoarthritis, focusing on the complications that can arise from the disease. By exploring the various aspects of OA, including its causes, symptoms, and progression. Additionally, this blog may give you advice on preventing and managing complications, improving quality of life, and maintaining independence.

Whether you are newly diagnosed with osteoarthritis, caring for someone with the condition, or seeking to understand more about this terrible disease, 

Overview of Osteoarthritis.

Understanding Osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones and wears down over time. Although OA can damage any joint, it most commonly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. Factors contributing to OA include aging, joint injury, obesity, and genetics.

Types of Osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis can be categorized into two primary types based on its cause:

  1. Primary Osteoarthritis: This type occurs without any identifiable underlying cause. It is generally associated with the aging process and the cumulative effects of joint wear and tear. Primary OA commonly affects the fingers, thumbs, spine, hips, and knees.
  2. Secondary Osteoarthritis: This second type results from an identifiable cause or underlying condition, such as joint injury, repetitive stress, obesity, or congenital joint abnormalities. Secondary OA can develop at a younger age compared to primary OA and may affect any joint previously subjected to trauma or stress.

The Development of Osteoarthritis.

The development of osteoarthritis involves several key processes, they include:

  • Cartilage Breakdown:  With a healthy cartilage it allows bones to glide smoothly over each other and absorbs shock from physical movement.  But with OA, cartilage is deteriorated and loses its ability to function correctly. Therefore this breakdown leads to pain and stiffness in the joint.
  • Bone Changes: As the cartilage wears away, the bones may start to thicken and form osteophytes, (bone spurs). 
  • Synovial Inflammation: The synovium produces a lubricating fluid in the joint, this synovium may become inflamed and thickens in response to cartilage damage. 
  • Joint Space Narrowing: The space between your bones in the joint becomes narrower as cartilage deteriorates. This narrowing can be seen on X-rays.
X-ray of a knee
Pain at the bottom of spine

Commonly Affected Joints.

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, but commonly it attacks:

  • Knees: The knees are the most frequently affected weight-bearing joints. 
  • Hips: Pain in the hips could be from your groin, thigh, and buttocks. This can become severe that you may require surgery, such as total hip replacement, in advanced cases.  I have had a replacement hip which has left me with the right hip which is the replacement hip three quarter inch longer than my left.
  • Hands: OA in the hands often affects the joints at the base of the thumb, also the ends of the fingers, and the middle joints of the fingers. Which can cause pain, swelling, and reduced grip strength.
  • Spine: Finally the spine can be very painful especially the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions, that can lead to pain and stiffness. 

Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis.

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, including:

  • Age: OA increases with age, as it is a wearing out of the joints.  It mostly occurring in individuals over 50.
  • Genetics: Family history can increase the risk, suggesting a genetic tendency to the disease.
  • Gender: Women are more at risk, especially after menopause.
  • Obese: If you are a overweight person, the extra body weight can increase the stress on the weight-bearing joints, these are your hips and knees.
  • Joint Injuries: Previous injuries or surgeries to a joint can developing OA.
  • Repetitive Stress: Occupations or activities that involves repetitive motion or stress on a joint can increase the risk of OA, for example if you are a tennis play.
  • Bone Deformities: If you have inherited or developing abnormalities of bones or joints you may lead to early-onset OA.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis.

When you go to your doctor they may do many diagnostics which involves a combination of clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests:

  • Medical History.
  • Physical Examination. this could be assessing your joint pain, tenderness, swelling, and the range of motion. 
  • Imaging Studies. The doctor may send you for an  X-ray to visualize if the joint space is narrowing, bone spurs, and changes in bone structure. They will also give you an MRI scans, this can help to give them detailed images of cartilage and soft tissues.
  • Laboratory Tests.  A blood test may not diagnose OA but, tests may help to rule out other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
A man in an MRI scan

Treatment Goals for Osteoarthritis.

The main goals of treating osteoarthritis is to reduce the symptoms such as pain, and improve your joint function, to help your quality of life. Some of the treatments could include physiotherapy, and medication.

Common Symptoms.

Osteoarthritis has a variety of symptoms that can vary in severity and progression. Understanding these symptoms is crucial for early detection, and effective management.

Pain.

Nature of Pain: The pain is described as aching or throbbing, and worsens with activity, but when you rest it can improve. The localised area of pain could include:

  • Knee: Pain may be felt around the knee, and occasionally traveling to the thigh or calf.
  • Hip: Pain could be in your groin, the outer thigh, or buttocks.
  • Hand: This is commonly in the base of the thumb, fingers, and knuckles.
  • Spine: May occur in the neck (cervical spine) or lower back (lumbar spine).

Risk Factor: the influence of the pain can include:

  • Increased physical activity.
  • Certain types of weather can also increase pain, such as myself the pain is worse when the weather is either cold, raining or high humidity.
  • and if you have extra body weight, the pain can cause stress on the weight-bearing joints.

Stiffness.

The worse time of stiffness is in the morning when you have not moved for a long time sleeping. Morning stiffness can last less than 30 minutes, but can vary depending on the severity of the condition.

A prolonged time of sitting or inactivity can lead to stiffness.

Swelling.

Swelling around the affected joint is common. It is caused by inflammation of the synovium (the lining of the joint) and an increase in synovial fluid.

Types of Swelling

  • Soft and Spongy.
  • Hard and Bony.
left knee inflamed and painful.

Reduced Range of Motion.

Your Joint Function can become limited, in the affected joint.

  • Pain can decrease movement.
  • Structural Changes: Joint deformity, osteophytes, and loss of cartilage can physically limit movement.

Impact on Daily Activities: You may have difficulty doing simple things as your range of motion will decrease and can make everyday tasks a challenge, such as:

  • Knee: Your knees may become difficult to bend therefore it will become harder to climb stairs, or sitting down.
  • Hip: With your hips you may have trouble walking, bending, or getting in and out of chairs or cars.
  • Hand: It can be very difficult if you have pain in your hands and fingers, especially gripping objects, opening jars, or typing.
  • Spine: With the disease attacking your spine you may have a limited ability to twist or bend the neck or your back.
Driving with painful back.

Grating Sensation.

You may have grating sensation from your affected joint, or you may experience crackling, or popping sensation, this is known as crepitus. This occurs when the cartilage wears down and the two bones of the joints rub together when you move.

Tenderness.

Your Joint may also be Sensitive  to touch, when you slightly put pressure on or around the joint it can worsen the pain.  The tenderness could be around your kneecap, in your groin or the outer thigh, or at the base of the thumb or finger joints.

Muscle Weakness.

With the painful joints, it can lead to muscle weakness around the joints that are affected, this is called 'atrophy'.  The weakness of the muscles can lead to difficulty doing daily tasks and it can also lead to a high risk of falls an injuries.  

Other common symptoms.

Other common symptoms include:

Fatigue: with chronic, persistent pain you can become fatigued, and depressed. Your independence can lead to feelings of hopelessness and worry about the progression of the disease and the impact on your daily life.

You may find it hard to sleep with the pain you are in especially at night. It can also contribute to daytime fatigue and reduced energy levels.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis.

When you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis it can involve many evaluations, physical examinations and diagnostic imaging.  

Clinical Evaluation and Patient History.

When you first go for a consultation, a healthcare provider will ask many question. Such as what is your symptoms, medical history and your lifestyle factors, these can include:

  • The location, duration and describe the nature of your pain.
  • When and how the pain began.
  • information about physical activities such as clues about the underlying causes of the disease.
  • Medical History, and family history.
doctor and patient

Physical Examination.

The healthcare provider will then inspect your affected joints to see if there is any swelling, redness, or any deformities.

Also they will include:

  • Your range of motion.
  • See if there is any cracking or grating sensation when you move the joint.
  • How stabile the joint is, see if there is any signs of joint instability that can cause risks of falls.
x ray of fingers.

Imaging Studies.

X-rays are the most common imaging tool for diagnosing OA. X-rays can show the following:

  •  Joint Space Narrowing: The can show if there are any indication of loss of cartilage.
  • Osteophytes: These are bone spurs that form along the edges of bones.
  • Subchondral Sclerosis: Or an increased bone density which is beneath the cartilage.
  • Subchondral Cysts: The last one is fluid-filled sacs within the bone.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI.

  • MRI can Identify early cartilage damage before it appears on X-rays.
  • Assessing the condition of ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues.
  • MRI can also detect conditions, such as synovitis (inflammation of the joint lining) or meniscal tears in the knee.
Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging evaluates the soft tissue around the joint, such as synovium, tendons, and ligaments. It can show if there are any effusion and guiding joint injections.

The healthcare provider will also send you for a blood test, and maybe withdraw synovial fluid from the affected joint, called joint aspiration.

Management Strategies.

Managing your OA involves complicated approach to relieving the symptoms. Such as helping to improve joint function, and improving your quality of life. 

Helping to manage your symptoms include:

Weight Management.

This section is for those of you that may have excess weight. As this can put more weight on your already unhealthy weight-bearing joints such as your knees, and hips.  

Weight management can include:

  • Dietary Changes: Having a balanced diet of rich fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help to achieve a healthy weight.
  • Portion Control: Also the portion sizes, and avoiding high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.
  • Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity, can also help such as low-impact exercises like: walking, swimming, or cycling.
A man on an exercise bike in a gym.

Exercises.

A regular exercise routine helps with managing OA. I know this is difficult as you are living with pain but exercise helps to strengthen the muscles, improve joint flexibility, and therefore reduce pain.

Recommended types of exercise include:

  • Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling improves your cardiovascular health and overall fitness.
  • Building muscle strength around the affected joints helps support and stabilize them. The exercise for this are resistance bands, weightlifting, and bodyweight exercises.
  • Another exercise is stretching which improves your joint flexibility, range of motion, reducing stiffness. The exercises for this one is yoga and tai chi.
  • Exercises that improve your balance and coordination, and reduce the risk of falls, are helping you to balance such as standing on a ball, this is done when you go to your physio.  This exercise is for those of your that have lower limb OA.

Assistive Devices:

Your physical therapists may recommend you to use assistive devices to aid mobility and reduce joint strain.

walking frame for difficulty walking.

These devices include:

  • Canes and Walkers: Reduces weight-bearing stress on lower limb joints.
  • Orthotic Inserts: Custom shoe inserts that provide support and improve joint alignment. With my replacement right hip, which has left me with the right leg three quarter inches longer than the other. I now live with  a block on my left shoe. 
  • Braces and Splints: Provide stability and support to affected joints, reducing pain and improving function.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies.

Acupuncture: Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. I have tried this but it got to expensive, although it did help my for a while.

Chiropractic Care: For some people this technique may help, they manipulates the spine and can provide pain relief.

Nutritional Supplements: Certain supplements may help to manage the symptoms, whereas evidence of their effectiveness varies. Common supplements include:

  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin: These are believed to support joint health and reduce pain, but studies show mixed results.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish oil, such as salmon, omega-3s are full of anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Turmeric and Curcumin: These also have anti-inflammatory agents, and could help reduce pain and inflammation.

BUT NEVER START ON SUPPLEMENTS BEFORE SEEING YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER OR DIETITION.

Some supplements can cause an adverse affect on some medication that you may be prescribed.

Other Techniques.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): Other techniques are a TENS machine. This involves using a device that delivers electrical impulses to the skin placed at the affected joint. These impulses can help reduce pain by blocking pain signals to the brain. But, be aware, I tried this but I got a bad reaction, from either the pad or the gel.

Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold to the affected joint can help manage pain and inflammation. Heat therapy is used for pain as it relaxes your muscles and improve blood flow. The cold therapy is used for reduce swelling and numb pain also inflammation.

Support.

Education Programs: Going to an educational program about  your disease and symptoms can help your to understand the condition. You will be able to learn self-management strategies.

Support Groups: Joining a support group, either in person or online, provides emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of community.

Mental Health Support: A Counsellor or therapy can help you to cope with the psychological impact of living with chronic pain and disability. 

Conclusion.

When you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis you will find it a complex and challenging condition.  It is the common type of arthritis and millions of people world wide sufferers from this.   

This blog has provided an overview of OA, by understanding the causes and symptoms of the disease. Also explored how you can live with this chronic pain and inflammation.

I hope this blog has helped you.  Please subscribe to my website, and I will keep you updated on the new blogs.  Also, if you need to know anything about arthritis, please go to my contact page and leave a message, and I shall get back to you.

In the meantime, if this post is informative, I would be very grateful if you would help your friends or family if they have a similar condition to tell them. So please share it on Twitter (X) or Facebook or send them an email.

Also click on the button below for more information on this article.

I am not a medical professional, and this blog is for information only. If you have any worries, you should consult your doctor.

I hope this blog has helped and good luck.

More Information.

https://foodwitharthitis.com

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351925

https://versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/conditions/osteoarthritis/

https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/osteoarthritis


Linda Rook

Linda is now retired and has suffered from Osteoarthritis for about 40+ years.  She struggled with her weight until she found the correct one that also helped with her arthritic pain.  Linda was in terrible pain until the physician thought her right hip needed replacement. 


Now Linda has an artificial right hip, which has left her with the left leg shorter than the right.  Therefore, her spine is now wonky, and has arthritis of the lower back, also it seems to be going all over the body, her pain is now in the knees, elbow, wrist, fingers and both hips.


Linda now spends her days writing information to help others with the same conditions, so they do not suffer like Linda.


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