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Osteoarthritis – OA – is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the cartilage between the bones in a joint breaks down. This loss of cushioning leads to stiffness, pain and swelling in the affected joint.

Understanding Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint condition, affecting over 30 million adults in the US.

Over time,wear and tear on the joint can break down the cartilage inside causing it to become rough.As the condition progresses, the cartilage can completely break away, resulting in bone-on-bone contact.

Although anyone can develop osteoarthritis – especially after traumatic joint injury –the condition is most common in those over age 65. Approximately half of all adults will develop osteoarthritis of the knee during their lifetime and 25 percent of adults will have hip OA by age 85.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis symptoms progressively worsen over time. OA symptoms include the following:

  • Pain – osteoarthritis pain is common in the morning and often occurs during and after joint movement. Affected joints may feel tender when pressure is applied
  • Stiffness–one of the most common symptoms of OA is stiffness first thing in the morning or after resting the joint
  • Swelling – mild swelling around the joint can occur
  • Loss of motion –range of motion may be limited, preventing full use of the joint
  • Noise – snapping, cracking, grating sounds may occur with joint movement

As osteoarthritis progresses, it becomes difficult to carry out normal activities of daily living such as walking, opening jars, making a bed, driving, etc. The risk of falls and injury also increases.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joint. Over time, repetitive joint movement can damage the smooth cartilage that separates the bones in the joint and helps the joint to move without friction.

Other factors that contribute to the development of OA include:

  • Genetics – certain inherited traits can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis
  • Obesity – aside from the increased strain excess weight puts on joints, there is also evidence that too much fat tissue produces cytokines, proteins that can damage joints.
  • Gender – osteoarthritis is more common in females than males
  • Age – most OA occurs in adults over 65 years of age

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

After gathering apersonal and family health history, your doctor will carefully review your symptoms. It is important to share details about any pain or stiffness you are experiencing, when symptoms began and how they affect your daily life.

Your doctor will then examine your joints, evaluating range of motion and looking for signs of pain, tenderness or swelling. Any fluid that has accumulated in the joint may be aspirated and sent for microscopic evaluation. X-rays and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the involved joint(s) may be ordered.

Although osteoarthritis cannot be diagnosed by a blood test, they may be ordered to rule out other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, so the goal of treatment is symptom management. Normally, a combination of therapies is recommended including:

  • Medications – NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), Tylenol, corticosteroids and other medications can help with pain and inflammation
  • Physical & occupational therapy – can strengthen supporting muscles, improve mobility, and provide solutions for challenging tasks such as dressing or brushing your teeth
  • Exercise – stretching exercises, walking, swimming, Tai chi and yoga can improve symptoms and reduce pain
  • Weight loss – maintaining a normal weight will reduce stress on joints and lessen pain


Orthopedic Surgery

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