Osteoarthritis is characterized by sore and rigid joints. The trouble is often due to heredity or prolonged and heavy load on the joints. Joint pain usually increases with age. The symptoms can be relieved in several ways – primarily through physical activity, but also with the help of drugs.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common rheumatic diseases.
All the bones of the body meet in the joints where there is an articular cartilage, which prevents the bones from scratching against each other. There is also joint fluid that supplies the cartilage with nutrition. During physical activity, more joint fluid is produced – therefore movement is important.
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, the cartilage breaks down faster than your body can build it up again, so the cartilage gets thinner and thinner and can even disappear completely.
Osteoarthritis is a joint disease where the breakdown of the cartilage is faster than its build-up. For example, it may be due to prolonged overload, overweight or heredity. Sports injuries are another common explanation – about half of all serious knee injuries lead to osteoarthritis. Thus, if you have injured yourself as a young person, you may suffer from osteoarthritis as you grow older. Occupations that involve heavy, repetitive or long-term stress can also cause osteoarthritis, for example, in the hip and knee joints.
The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases as we get older as the cartilage becomes fragile over the years. Women are affected more often than men.
Common risk factors:
- heavy and long-lasting load on joints
- muscle weakness and physical inactivity
- joint injuries, congenital or acquired.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by stiff and aching joints – it can be difficult to get out of bed in the morning and you can feel stiff when you sit down and get up again. Some may feel weakness in their muscles and many generally get tired.
Symptoms often develop slowly over the years, but can also occur after a joint injury. The pain and stiffness varies from person to person and can come and go – it is common to have clear symptoms at times and milder symptoms at others.
- stiffness in the diseased joint
- reduced mobility
- muscle weakness
In the beginning, osteoarthritis is often limited to fingers, toes and knees. Eventually, more joints can be affected. For example, you may have hip arthritis and osteoarthritis of the back, shoulder or jaw. The pain usually comes first in connection with movement and strain, but when the disease worsens, you can feel the pain even at rest.
In case of inflammation of the joint cartilage, the joints become red and warm. You can also see small nodes or bone growths on the outermost finger joints (Heberden`s nodes) – these are not dangerous, but can hurt.
Remember that rheumatic disorders are not always due to osteoarthritis. It may also be other rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), reactive arthritis, or septic arthritis.
In more unusual cases, if the joint is red, swollen and warm and you have an affected general condition, it can be a sign of more acute problems that require immediate care.
Prevention and protection
You may have risk factors for OA that you can’t control, such as heredity, age, and gender. But other risk factors can be controlled, and managing them can help reduce your risk of OA.
The following tips can help you manage the risk factors:
- Support your body. If you’re an athlete, make sure you care for your body. Wear athletic supports and shoes that reduce impact on your knees. Also make sure to vary your sports, so that all of your muscles get a workout, not just the same muscles every time.
- Watch your weight. Keep your body mass index (BMI) in the appropriate range for your height and gender.
- Keep a healthy diet. Eat a range of healthy foods, with a focus on fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Get enough rest. Give your body enough opportunities to rest and to sleep.
If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can also help manage your risk of OA.
Lifestyle modification (such as weight loss and exercise) and pain medications are the mainstays of treatment. Acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol) is the recommended first line treatment, with NSAIDs being used as an add on therapy only if pain relief is not sufficient.
Moderate exercise may be beneficial for the pain and function in those with osteoarthritis of the knee and hip. These exercises should occur at least three times per week.
Joint injection of glucocorticoids (such as hydrocortisone) leads to short-term pain relief that may last between a few weeks and a few months.
Also in OA, it is possible to use hyaluronic acid in combination with platelet rich plasma and glucosamine or chondroitin.
If the impact of symptoms of osteoarthritis on quality of life is significant and more conservative management is ineffective, joint replacement surgery or resurfacing may be recommended.
When to consult a doctor
If you have pain in your joints or have felt stiff for a long time, you should consult a doctor, preferably an orthopedist. It is important not to wait too long – early treatment can stop the course of the disease.
If the joints are red, swollen and warm, you should seek urgent care, not least if you have a fever and an affected general condition at the same time.
How APPOTEK can help
You can contact us at APPOTEK for help with joint and muscle pain. A nurse or a physician will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms, after which you may be prescribed treatment or referred for further examination. To diagnose osteoarthritis, a physical examination is usually required.