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Osteoarthritis: A Comprehensive Guide to Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

5 min read

Matthew Delmonico

Reviewed

by Dr. Matthew Delmonico

Man with knee pain from osteoarthritis

Are you experiencing tender and painful joint pain near your knees, hands, hips, or spine as you move? This might be due to osteoarthritis, a degenerative wear-and-tear condition that develops gradually and affects the joints of all or some parts of the body, including the tissues and nearby areas of the joint. 

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It commonly affects older adults and there can be many possible reasons behind the development of osteoarthritis. Although there is no cure for this condition, its symptoms are still manageable. 

In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of osteoarthritis in detail.

What Is Osteoarthritis? 

In simple terms, osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the cartilage. A cartilage is a flexible and strong connective tissue that lines or surrounds your joints, which are the connection points between two bones.

The cartilage lining is a layer that prevents the bones from rubbing together as you use, move, or bend the joint. When the cartilage layer is damaged, it leads to the rubbing of the two bones against each other, causing pain and tenderness. 

The bones rub against each other when you use, apply pressure, or move the affected joint. For example, a person whose knees are affected commonly experiences pain while bending them or climbing stairs.  

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint of the body. However, the hands, knees, spine, and hips are the most commonly affected joints.

Symptoms

A patient may experience one or more of the following symptoms of osteoarthritis:

  • Pain while moving, bending, or using the joint
  • Swelling on or near the joint
  • Feeling of weakness or tiredness while using the joints or after long hours of work
  • Joint stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion or inability to move the joint
  • A clicking sound while moving the joint

Top 5 Causes of Osteoarthritis 

Osteoarthritis is a joint disorder that develops gradually due to several reasons, including: 

Joint Injuries 

Joint injuries can lead to osteoarthritis. For example, if you face any severe joint injury, it can damage your cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis.

Excessive Body Weight 

Excessive body weight can put additional pressure or burden on your joints, damaging the cartilage layers surrounding your bone. 

Moreover, excess body fat increases the risks of joint inflammation. Damaged cartilage and inflammation in the joint can gradually cause the development of osteoarthritis.

Increased Age 

The cartilage that lines our bones also wears out naturally on its own as we age. This can be a result of lifetime joint use and repetitive movements. Hence, osteoarthritis may develop as age progresses, commonly when the person reaches 45 years or older, but it can also affect younger adults.

Overuse of Joints 

Repetitive, excessive overuse of the same joint can gradually damage and, at some point, put pressure on your cartilage, resulting in osteoarthritis.

Genetics 

Another possible cause is genetics. A person with a family history of osteoarthritis may be more prone to developing the condition.

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Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

Elderly woman at home suffering from osteoarthritis has back pain.

There are two common tests for diagnosing osteoarthritis: physical examination and imaging tests (like X-rays and MRIs). 

If you consistently experience the symptoms of osteoarthritis, you should consult an orthopedic doctor and have diagnostic tests done. 

Physical Examination 

A physical examination is the first major step to diagnose osteoarthritis. Your doctor will check your affected joint and identify signs of swelling, redness, tenderness, pain, and mobility.

X-Rays 

The second test done to further evaluate the diagnosis of osteoarthritis is an X-ray. An X-ray is an imaging test of the affected joint that shows loss or damage to the cartilage or bone spurs that helps identify osteoarthritis.

MRI 

An MRI is another imaging test, but it shows detailed and extensive images of the cartilage, bones, joints, and soft tissues. 

The test uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves and is done in more complex and severe cases of osteoarthritis to get more detailed information about the patient’s condition.

Treatment  

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis can’t be completely cured or reversed. However, there are multiple ways to ease or reduce the symptoms of the condition, including:

Medications  

Medications that help ease pain and inflammation are given to reduce its symptoms. Common medications that are given to improve osteoarthritis symptoms include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. They help reduce pain and inflammation of the affected joint.

Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy gradually and slowly exercises the affected joints which helps strengthen the nearby muscles, tissues, and bones. This eases pain and inflammation and improves the range of motion of the joint affected with osteoarthritis. Your physiotherapist will recommend some exercises based on your condition.

Surgery 

Surgery involves replacing the affected joint with an artificial joint. There are several drawbacks of surgery as the artificial joint is not long-lasting and may become loose or wear out with time and may need replacement. 

Moreover, surgery involves the risk of infection and blood clots. Hence, surgical replacement of joints is recommended in severe cases when other options become ineffective, or the pain is intolerable.

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5 Major Tips To Prevent Osteoarthritis 

Osteoarthritis is a joint condition that is painful and difficult to cure, and it affects your daily life activities like moving and working freely. But the good news is that this condition is preventable, and some significant lifestyle modifications can help prevent the disease. 

The following are the 5 major tips to prevent osteoarthritis: 

  1. Controlling and maintaining a healthy weight.
  2. Avoiding excessive and repetitive use of the same joint over and over again.
  3. Engaging in light to moderate exercises on a daily or at least weekly basis, like walking, bicycling, jogging, resistance exercise, swimming, or other water exercises.
  4. Preventing or taking precautions against injuries, especially if you are an athlete or prone to injuries. 
  5. Eating healthy. It is crucial to take an adequate amount of vitamin D and calcium to keep your bones healthy. Ensure proper intake of foods that contain calcium and vitamin D, like green leafy vegetables, milk, yogurt, cheese, egg yolk, and fish.

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