Osteoarthritis is a debilitating illness that is characterised by the decreasing volume of cartilage in the joints along with damage to the connective tissues. Cartilage is the protective cushioning layer at the ends of two bones that connect to form a joint. This ailment, abbreviated as OA and also referred to as degenerative joint disease/wear-and-tear arthritis, is the most commonly occurring type of arthritis, affecting adult men and women of all age groups. Other forms of arthritis that develop in a small segment of adults are gout, rheumatoid arthritis and in children – juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
The joints in the body which encounter stiffness, pain and loss of strength and flexibility as a result of OA are the hands – fingers, wrists, elbows, as well as the hips, knees and spine. A chronic disorder, osteoarthritis is a progressive condition in which the symptoms exacerbate with time, often making the afflicted individual incapable of free movement and normal bending of joints. Thus, identifying the signs of osteoarthritis early on and reporting it to the doctor ensures prompt diagnosis and treatment, to manage the condition better and help the affected person remain active with functioning joints.
Causes Of Osteoarthritis:
The primary causative factor of osteoarthritis is the corrosion of the cartilage – the tough pliable connective tissue encompassing edges of bones at the site of joints. Since a strong cartilaginous layer enables smooth frictionless movement at the joints, OA invariably induces rigidity of tissues and restriction motion.
Aside from prompting the bones to brush against one another in a painful manner, osteoarthritis also leads to bone degradation and inflammation, soreness in the joint lining.
Certain aspects predispose an individual to acquire osteoarthritis, such as:
- Old age where tissue strength declines gradually
- Being female, since women display a higher probability of contracting OA compared to men
- Obesity wherein excess body weight applies more pressure on the hip, knee joints, thus stressing them extensively
- Injuries of the joints, like cartilage tears, ligament wounds, displaced joints from playing sports or being in an accident
- Genetic aberrations
- Congenital conditions at birth that involve deformed, abnormally shaped bones, joints or cartilage, like hip dysplasia, juvenile arthritis
- Metabolic disorders like diabetes and haemochromatosis
Osteoarthritis is a chronic illness in which the symptoms worsen as the person grows older and the duration of the condition prolongs. It progresses in five distinct stages – 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, wherein stage 0 displays a normal healthy joint and stage 4 exhibits joints and bones with grave damage. However, when detected in the earlier phases, OA does not advance to stage 4 in all patients and can be controlled with appropriate medications and treatment.
The distinguishing indications of osteoarthritis comprise:
- Joint pain that increases in intensity as OA progresses onto later stages
- Stiffness in joints, with lack of free movement upon waking up in the morning or remaining sedentary, idle for long periods
- Tenderness in bones
- Reduced flexibility of affected joints
- Popping or cracking sound from when moving or twisting joints
- Formation of tissue masses near swollen joints known as bone spurs
- Inflammation of soft tissue surrounding the affected joints
The symptoms are rather difficult to spot in the early stages of osteoarthritis and it is hence a challenge for doctors to diagnose the condition before considerable damage has occurred in the joints. The physician conducts an external physical exam to see if any signs of inflammation, redness, soreness, flexibility of movement, tenderness and pain are demonstrated by the patient in the body joints. Visual images of the joints are obtained by means of X-rays and MRI scans, to assess the extent of cartilage tissue loss in the patient.
The healthcare provider also performs a blood test, to investigate the possibility of other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis that is denoted by increased levels of inflammatory markers and proteins in the blood. A sample of joint fluid i.e. synovial fluid is collected by the medical expert and studied for levels of inflammation, to rule out the chance of gout or infection being the cause of joint pain.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis but the discomforting joint disorder can be managed with timely diagnosis and pertinent treatment. Treatment for OA consists of:
- Prescription analgesic i.e. pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy exercises to improve range of motion of joints
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), which employs low-voltage current to alleviate intense pain, soreness in the joints
However, if these remedial measures are not effective in mitigating joint ache and swelling, then advanced techniques are performed, such as:
- Cortisone or lubrication injections in the affected joints to lower pain and preserve optimal movement
- Invasive surgical protocols of bone repositioning or joint replacement surgery
In addition, the orthopaedic specialist advises the patient to lose excess body weight, so as to reduce the tension, force applied on the joints when moving and engage in regular physical activity like walking, jogging, swimming to keep the joints mobile and dynamic. Home remedies of applying hot or cold packs to the affected joints help soothe pain and inflammation, while wearing braces, shoe inserts support the body in standing and walking, to decrease pain and pressure on the joints.