Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic condition that results from the degeneration of the cartilage that lines and protects the joints, allowing the bones to move freely in the joint without pain or friction. Also known as degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, the loss of cartilage can lead to permanent joint damage, difficulty with walking and other movements, and chronic pain.
Although anyone can suffer from OA, it is most common in adults over the age of 65, and typically develops as a normal byproduct of continuous wear and tear on the joints as a result of the aging process. All joints are susceptible to osteoarthritis, but it typically affects the joints in the hands, fingers, knees, hips, and elbows.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Because they are constantly in motion throughout a person’s lifetime, the joints are naturally vulnerable to some degree of cartilage damage and loss over time. In addition to age, there are a few factors that can increase the risk of developing OA:
- Genetics and heredity
- Being obese or overweight, which puts additional pressure on the joints and makes them work harder
- Weakened and under-developed muscles
- Trauma from an injury
- Repetitive strain and overuse of the joint
- Side effect of another health condition or metabolic disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, hemochromatosis, and acromegaly
Signs and Symptoms of OA
The most common symptoms associated with OA are pain, swelling, and stiffness in the affected joint, particularly in the morning after waking and when first moving again after periods of rest. Limited range of motion may also result. Osteoarthritis symptoms are progressive and develop slowly and intensify over time. A painful, grating sensation may be a sign of extensive cartilage loss and friction between the bones in the joint during movement.
Side Effects of Osteoarthritis
Like any medical condition, osteoarthritis affects everyone differently, with varying degrees of severity from patient to patient. As it advances and cartilage continues to wear away, severe cases of osteoarthritis can also lead to:
- Bone spurs
- Loose bodies (cartilage and bone fragments that break away and float in the joint space)
As the pain intensifies and the joint becomes harder to move, everyday tasks like walking, climbing stairs, and participating in sports and social activities can become extremely difficult and lead to diminished quality of life. Lack of physical activity can also increase the risk of serious secondary health risks related to weight gain, like diabetes and heart disease. Understandably, many people limit their physical activity and movement to mitigate the pain and avoid additional pressure on the affected joint, which can in turn make the stiffness and mobility problems worse.
Once osteoarthritis has been diagnosed, an orthopedic specialist can design an appropriate treatment and pain management plan to help patients remain active and preserve quality of life as much as possible.
Osteoarthritis and Advanced Joint Degeneration Treatment in Los Angeles
Treatment for OA varies from patient to patient depending on the severity of the joint and cartilage degeneration, as well as on the health and lifestyle of each patient, among other factors. Depending on the extent of damage to the joint, rate of cartilage degeneration, pain levels, and the patient’s mobility and overall health, treatments range from conservative options like physical therapy and medication, to surgery to repair or replace a damaged hip or knee joint. Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are comprehensive treatment options available to help manage pain and maintain mobility and flexibility in the joint.
Treatment Options for Mild to Severe Osteoarthritis
Physical therapy and strength training exercises – It might sound counter-intuitive at first. How can a painful, stiff, swollen joint carry out, much less benefit from more stress and movement? While running a marathon or other strenuous activities are not recommended, low impact physical activity like walking and yoga help to keep the joints flexible, and can help to prevent weight gain that can lead to more stress on the joints and additional health problems. Building up the strength and flexibility of the supporting muscles will also help to ease additional stress and help the joint to function better, and potentially slow down the cartilage degeneration.
Medication to manage pain and inflammation symptoms – The most common medications for OA treatment are over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and acetaminophen, prescription pain relievers, and corticosteroids.
Assistive Devices – Canes, scooters, walkers, splints, braces (for the knee), and shoe orthotics
Alternative Treatments – Acupuncture, massage, meditation, and hydrotherapy
Surgery – If chronic inflammation and cartilage loss causes extensive damage to the hip joint, an orthopedic specialist may determine that surgery is necessary to improve function and movement to the joint.
Contact an Orthopedic Surgeon in Los Angeles
Severe osteoarthritis can lead to irreversible joint damage. For more information on treatment and recovery options for OA and other joint and hip injuries, contact orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel C. Allison in Beverly Hills by calling 310-730-8008 to schedule an appointment today.
Next, read about Avascular Necrosis.