The word “arthritis” or “degeneration” often seems to strike fear in the hearts of patients, however this is most likely due to many common misconceptions. These days management techniques are far improved and it need not be a frightening diagnosis!
Here are some need to know facts about Osteoarthritis;
What is Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is a condition that affects 1.6 million Australians or 15% of the population. It is most prevalent in people over the age of 45. It is one in a family of conditions that affect the joints of the body in different ways. It involves varying degrees of wearing down of the cartilage that sits between joint spaces of bones and therefore often a decrease in the space between joint spaces.
This decrease in joint cartilage then leaves the underlying bony surfaces open to damage from joint surface contact which in turn causes a thickening of the bony surface and possible abnormal bony growths known as osteophytes.
The joint capsule that sits around all joints may also become thickened and other structures such as ligaments can become weakened and surrounding muscles may become stiff and wasted. In worst cases joints can become unstable, deformed and swollen.
What causes osteoarthritis
Arthritis is often considered an age-related condition and whilst incidence does increase in general with age, most individuals will have some element of joint degeneration by the age of 45 and may be quite unaware of it. The exact causes of joint degeneration are still largely unclear however there are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of incidence including;
- Sedentary lifestyle
- History of joint trauma or injury
- Lifetime joint stress due to occupation or excessive physical activity
What are the signs and symptoms
Early joint degeneration is often asymptomatic so it can often go undetected until other structures such as muscles around joints become affected. The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis are weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips as well as the spine and hands.
Common symptoms can be:
- Joint pain and stiffness- presents for no apparent reason, gradually over time.
- Often worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity but improve with movement. Excessive activity may however increase pain levels
- Symptoms usually occur asymptomatically
- Intermittent swelling, often after periods of activity
- In later stages, joint deformity may occur i.e. swelling around the end finger joints.
- Symptoms are obviously dependent on the particular joint that is affected.
What treatments are there for osteoarthritis
As the name suggests degenerative joint disease is degenerative in nature, that is, it is irreversible. However it need not affect daily life. Research suggests at present the best forms of management include a multi-disciplinary approach with a combination of:
- Exercise in general and more specific exercise plans to OA
- Patient education about aggravating activities and making daily activities easier
- Manual treatment including soft tissue, dry needling, joint articulation, stretching
- Pain relief in the form of heat, ice and analgesic medications
Concerningly many people put up with the pain and discomfort of OA without understanding it can be well managed with proper treatment. Osteopaths treat osteoarthritis every day so if you are concerned about treating your joints come and visit the Osteopaths at Beyond. Don’t let osteoarthritis stop you from moving through life!
ACSM. (2013). ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (7th ed.). New York: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.
Australian, Bureau of Statistics. (2004-2005). Musculoskeletal Conditions in Australia: A Snapshot. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats.
Mc Cance L Kathryn, Huether E Sue. (2002). Pathophysiology, The Biological Basis for Disease in Adult and Children (5th ed.). USA: Elsevier Mosby.
Porth, C. M. (2008). Pathophysiology: Concepts of altered health states (8th ed.). Philidelphia: Lippincot, Williams & Wilkins.