What is osteoarthritis?
is the most common form of arthritis, it is also known as degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis is more common after the age of 45 and is
also more common in women. Osteoarthritis
commonly affects weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips,
spine and feet. However, you may also get osteoarthritis on smaller
joints like the fingers, called Heberden' s nodes (painful, bony
growths usually at the end of the fingers) that can make the hands
appear knobbly and sometimes out of shape. Osteoarthritis of the
hands is more common in women as they go through the menopause.
Osteoarthritis can develop in any
joint, especially if it has been badly injured or put under any unusual
What causes osteoarthritis?
as we get older (it is uncommon before the age of 40), and used
to be called "wear and tear" arthritis. It occurs when
a rubbery material that protects bones from rubbing against each
other, thins and becomes weak. As
osteoarthritis gets worse, the bones will begin to rub against each
other when the joint is moved.
This causes the bones to thicken and spread out, forming bony growths known as
osteophytes, at various places in the joint. The joint then becomes inflamed, painful and difficult to move. Most
cases of osteoarthritis will have no known cause.
are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary with
each patient, some people find the symptoms disabling where as others
may have few symptoms. The following symptoms may indicate that
you have osteoarthritis:
- Swelling and inflammation in one or more joints.
- Stiffness around the joints.
- Constant or recurring pain in
- Sudden difficulty in moving or using a joint.
- A crack or click noise may be heard when you move
the affected joint.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis may
become worse throughout the day, in damp weather or after periods
of inactivity, for example sitting in the cinema.
If you suffer with osteoarthritis
in the knees you may find you develop a limp. Long-standing osteoarthritis
may eventually lead to the deformity of the affected joint. The knock-knees and bow legs seen in elderly
people, is usually the result of long term osteoarthritis in both
Am I at risk of osteoarthritis?
You may be at risk of
are overweight. The knees are the joints most commonly
affected in people who are overweight because of the extra weight
placed on them.
- You are a woman.
- You have had repeated injuries or past fractures.
- You overuse or constantly strain a certain joint,
for example from work related activities or hobbies. Osteoarthritis
is common in former sportsmen.
Can I do anything to prevent getting osteoarthritis?
Though there is nothing you can do to
prevent getting osteoarthritis, you should maintain a healthy
diet and avoid being overweight. You should also ensure
you get regular exercise, this will help prevent weight gain and
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
Your doctor will normally suspect osteoarthritis
from your symptoms and medical history. In some cases osteoarthritis
may also be diagnosed from a physical examination of the joints,
especially if it's a large joint that is affected. An x-ray of the
affected area will usually confirm the diagnosis and determine how
far the disease has progressed. Though there is no blood test for
osteoarthritis you may have one to rule out other forms of arthritis.
How will osteoarthritis progress?
Osteoarthritis usually progresses slowly
over a number of years and usually stays a mild problem, enabling
most people to carry on living a normal life. Osteoarthritis can
vary greatly in each person, some people may just have mild symptoms,
while others may have difficulty moving the affected joint and the
condition can become disabling. However, it is rare for osteoarthritis
to progress to a disabling arthritis with severe deformities and
there are many treatments available to improve symptoms.
How is osteoarthritis treated?
There is no cure for most types
of arthritis, however, there is a large range of treatments available
which are aimed at relieving pain, improving joint mobility and
helping you live a normal life. Some people may only require a simple,
daily exercise program to help ease the pain and improve movement
in the joint.
To manage osteoarthritis it is
important that you stay fit and exercise regularly. Regular exercise
can help you reduce weight, strengthen the muscles which support
the joints and improve the joints movement. Try exercise with minimal
impact on the joints, such as swimming, walking and stationary cycling.
A physiotherapist will be able to advise you about the right exercise routines to
keep the muscles strong and promote mobility. Pain can also temporarily
be relieved by heated pools/baths or by applying a warm heat pack
(e.g. hot water bottle) to stiff joints, this helps ease pain and
If you are finding the joints very
painful, there are many drugs available to relieve pain and reduce
inflammation around the joint. These drugs fall into three categories:
- Analgesics (pain killers) such as paracetamol
which help relieve pain. These are available over the counter
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which are available over the counter
at chemists. There are also many stronger NSAID'S which can be
prescribed by your doctor. These drugs normally start working
within a few hours, they reduce inflammation and so reduce pain.
However, if taken over a long period they may cause stomach problems.
- Steroids, usually cortisone can be taken
either in tablet form or via an injection directly into the affected
joint for immediate relief. Steroids can have side effects if
taken long term so they are usually only prescribed to control
Your doctor may suggest that you
wear a splint, support or a brace on the affected joints to prevent
them becoming permanently bent and to keep them rested. A walking
stick will also help reduce the weight and stress on a painful hip
or knee joint. Your doctor will show you how to use it properly.
If arthritis is severe you may
require surgery to replace the affected joint, nowadays hip and
knee replacements are a very common operation.