What Is Osteoarthritis?
Many people suffer from arthritis – including men and women, older people and even children. There are around 150 different types of arthritis. The most common type is called osteoarthritis, with about 1.6 million Australians suffering from this form of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis: A degenerative joint disease
Osteoarthritis is known as a degenerative joint disease and as it progresses people with it lose function of the affected joints. Osteoarthritis starts with the breakdown – or degeneration – of cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is the flexible tissue that provides a cushion where bones come together and prevents them from rubbing against each other during movement. Cartilage can start to wear down with age and joint use, decreasing the protective cushion between bones. In osteoarthritis the cartilage can break down so much that it no longer cushions the two bones.
In patients with advanced osteoarthritis not only is the cartilage damaged but the bones can also change, such as new bone forming near the joint.
Osteoarthritis affects only the joints and can occur in any joint in the body. The most commonly affected joints are the knees, hips, spine and hands.
The main symptom of osteoarthritis is joint pain. The pain from osteoarthritis may range from mild to severe, disabling pain. The pain is typically, associated with the use of the joint and subsides with rest. However for some people with advanced osteoarthritis the pain can persist when resting and even occur at night, while sleeping. In addition to joint pain, osteoarthritis can cause joint stiffness as affected joints cannot bend as easily or with their full range of motion. In fact, osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability in Australia.
Osteoarthritis risk factors
Age is a key risk factor for osteoarthritis. People usually develop osteoarthritis from their mid 40s through to old age. In Australia about 1 in 10 men and 2 in 10 women aged between 45 and 65 years suffer from osteoarthritis and as people age osteoarthritis becomes more common.
In addition to age, family history of osteoarthritis and carrying excess body weight may also raise a person’s risk of developing osteoarthritis. Joint injuries or fractures can lead to osteoarthritis later in life, as can long-term overuse of joints. In addition, osteoarthritis is more common and severe in women, especially in the knees and hands.
Importantly, although osteoarthritis is common, it is generally a mild condition and progression to severe disease is uncommon.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis but it can be managed and many people with osteoarthritis can manage many aspects of their condition by themselves. Here are some of the things you can do to help reduce the pain and adapt to living with osteoarthritis.
Control your weight. Controlling your weight is one of the best things you can do if you have osteoarthritis, especially of the knees or hips. Weight loss can reduce pain and discomfort.
Move those joints. Exercising is key, it can optimise cartilage health, help maintain joint movement and strengthen muscles. For example, for people with knee osteoarthritis, strengthening the quadriceps can improve joint stability and reduce pain.
Relieve your pain so you can keep moving. If you have mild-to-moderate joint pain, treatment options include over-the-counter pain relievers and heat therapy to reduce pain. As osteoarthritis pain does not have an inflammatory component, paracetamol is the most commonly used pain reliever for managing osteoarthritis pain. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe other medications to treat your osteoarthritis symptoms.
More information regarding ways to manage joint pain and exercises to strengthen your joints can be found in the articles Exercises To Strengthen Your Joints, Tips for Managing Knee Osteoarthritis and Joint Pain and Tips for Managing Hand Osteoarthritis.