Osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative arthritis, hypertrophic arthritis, or age-related arthritis) implies an inflamed joint by its very name. Osteoarthritis (OA) develops over time as our joints age. Don't confuse OA with osteoporosis, which is a condition that causes thinning of the bones.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis in the United States, affecting more than 70 percent of adults between 55 and 78 years of age. Women are affected more than men. OA is very common and can be impacted by obesity, injuries we have sustained through our lives, age and genetic disposition. OA can cause our joints to become stiff and painful. Any of our joints can be affected, such as the joints in our hands, knees, hips, neck and back.
Our bones are cushioned at the ends by joints. Our joints contain cartilage and fluid, which act as "shock absorbers." According to the Mayo Clinic, cartilage is a firm and slippery tissue that allows "frictionless joint movement." Repeated use of our bones causes deterioration of the cartilage and fluid in the joint. When cartilage deteriorates, our bones begin to rub against each other.
Thitinan Srikulmontree, a rheumatologist at San Juan Medical Center, postulates that when this happens, it results in the inflammation of the area around our joints, bone deterioration, and a reduction in range of motion. Dr. Srikulmontree says that the symptoms of OA are different for each person, and can include swelling, pain, stiffness, warmth, and creaking of the joints. OA can affect anyone age 40 and older. The risk factors are: obesity, injuries to the joints, having family members with OA, or joint deformities.
There are different ways doctors can diagnose this type of arthritis in patients. According to WebMD, an x-ray allows doctors to see if there has been a loss of cartilage in the joint area. Other tests used to diagnose OA examine joint fluid, and analyze the location of the problem, the duration, and the type of symptoms that are occurring. Finally, through surgical procedures, doctors can view joint spaces to locate any abnormalities. The diagnosis process is different for each patient.
There are many types of treatments for OA from medication to surgery. Since the effects and symptoms of OA differ so much from person to person, only your doctor can tell you what treatments are right for you. There are other things that you can do to minimize the effects that OA can have on your daily living. First and foremost is weight loss and having a healthy lifestyle. According to Dr. Srikulmontree, each pound we lose reduces the amount pressure put on our joints, which eases pain. If you don't have OA, the weight loss decreases the likelihood that you will develop it.
Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains can help you maintain a healthy weight. Exercise can help strengthen muscles, decrease pain, and can lessen the chance of disability due to OA. It's best to check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any type of exercise, but generally "low impact" exercise is desirable. Activities such as swimming or taking an arthritis Tai Chi class can help reduce pain and improve overall fitness. Using canes, leg braces and hot or cold therapy can help decrease pain.
Dr. Srikulmontree also suggests some other steps you can take to help you manage OA. They include cushioning your neck and back while sitting and sleeping, adjusting things around the house to access them easier (for example, raising your chair or toilet seat), and avoiding repeated joint motions like bending,
For more information, attend a free program entitled 'Osteoarthritis' on May 22 from noon to 1 p.m. in Littauer's Auditorium presented by Dr. Donald Raddatz, a rheumatologist from Cooperstown. For more information, call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120.