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What Is Osteoarthritis?

[fa icon="calendar"] May 5, 2022 1:00:00 PM / by Calvin Leong

MBlog - What Is Osteoarthritis (Blog)

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis. It refers to joint pain or joint disease. Osteoarthritis affects tissue that covers the ends of bones in joints (cartilage). Cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones and helps them move smoothly. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in the joints gets worn down. Osteoarthritis is sometimes called "wear and tear" arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It often occurs in older people. It is a condition that gets worse over time. The joints most often affected by this condition are in the fingers, toes, hips, knees, and spine, including the neck and lower back.

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by the wearing down of cartilage that covers the ends of bones.

 

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make you more likely to develop this condition:


What are the signs or symptoms?

The main symptoms of this condition are pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joint. Other symptoms may include:

  • An enlarged joint.
  • More pain and further damage caused by small pieces of bone or cartilage that break off and float inside of the joint.
  • Small deposits of bone (osteophytes) that grow on the edges of the joint.
  • A grating or scraping feeling inside the joint when you move it.
  • Popping or creaking sounds when you move.
  • Difficulty walking or exercising.
  • An inability to grip items, twist your hand(s), or control the movements of your hands and fingers.

Nurse and doctor examining xray in hospital


How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:

  • Your medical history.
  • A physical exam.
  • Your symptoms.
  • X-rays of the affected joint(s).
  • Blood tests to rule out other types of arthritis.

 

How is this treated?

There is no cure for this condition, but treatment can help control pain and improve joint function. Treatment may include a combination of therapies, such as:

  • Pain relief techniques, such as:
    • Applying heat and cold to the joint.
    • Massage
    • A form of talk therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy helps you set goals and follow up on the changes that you make.
  • Medicines for pain and inflammation. The medicines can be taken by mouth or applied to the skin. They include:
    • NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen.
    • Prescription medicines.
    • Strong anti-inflammatory medicines (corticosteroids).
    • Certain nutritional supplements.
  • A prescribed exercise program. You may work with a physical therapist.
  • Assistive devices, such as a brace, wrap, splint, specialised glove, or cane.
  • A weight control plan.
  • Surgery, such as:
    • An osteotomy. This is done to reposition the bones and relieve pain or to remove loose pieces of bone and cartilage.
    • Joint replacement surgery. You may need this surgery if you have advanced osteoarthritis.       

Young woman helping old man to stand up


Follow these instructions at home:

Activity

  • Rest your affected joints as told by your healthcare provider.
  • Exercise as told by your health care provider. He or she may recommend specific types of exercise, such as:
    • Strengthening exercises. These are done to strengthen the muscles that support joints affected by arthritis.
    • Aerobic activities. These are exercises, such as brisk walking or water aerobics, that increase your heart rate.
    • Range-of-motion activities. These help your joints move more easily.
    • Balance and agility exercises.

Managing pain, stiffness, and swelling 

  • If directed, apply heat to the affected area as often as told by your healthcare provider. Use the heat source that your healthcare provider recommends, such as a moist heat pack or a heating pad.
    • If you have a removable assistive device, remove it as told by your healthcare provider.
    • Place a towel between your skin and the heat source. If your healthcare provider tells you to keep the assistive device on while you apply heat, place a towel between the assistive device and the heat source.
    • Leave the heat on for 20–30 minutes.
    • Remove the heat if your skin turns bright red. This is especially important if you are unable to feel pain, heat, or cold. You may have a greater risk of getting burned.
  • If directed, put ice on the affected area. To do this:
    • If you have a removable assistive device, remove it as told by your healthcare provider.
    • Put ice in an ice bag.
    • Place a towel between your skin and the bag. If your healthcare provider tells you to keep the assistive device on during icing, place a towel between the assistive device and the bag.
    • Leave the ice on for 20 minutes, 2–3 times a day.
    • Move your fingers or toes often to reduce stiffness and swelling.
    • Raise (elevate) the injured area above the level of your heart while you are sitting or lying down.

General instructions

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your healthcare provider.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Follow instructions from your healthcare provider for weight control.
  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco. If you need help quitting, ask your healthcare provider.
  • Use assistive devices as told by your healthcare provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your healthcare provider. This is important.

Digital composite of Highlighted bones of woman at physiotherapist-1


Contact a healthcare provider if:

  • You have redness, swelling, or a feeling of warmth in a joint that gets worse.
  • You have a fever along with joint or muscle aches.
  • You develop a rash.
  • You have trouble doing your normal activities.


Get help right away if:

  • You have pain that gets worse and is not relieved by pain medicine.


Summary

  • Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that affects tissue covering the ends of bones in joints (cartilage).
  • This condition is caused by the wearing down of cartilage that covers the ends of bones.
  • The main symptom of this condition is pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joint.
  • There is no cure for this condition, but treatment can help control pain and improve joint function.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your healthcare provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your healthcare provider.


References:

Cope, P.J., Ourradi, K., Li, Y. and Sharif, M., 2019. Models of osteoarthritis: the good, the bad and the promising. Osteoarthritis and cartilage27(2), pp.230-239.

Hawker, G.A., 2019. Osteoarthritis is a serious disease. Clin Exp Rheumatol37(Suppl 120), pp.3-6.

Hunter, D.J. and Bierma-Zeinstra, S., 2019. Osteoarthritis. The Lancet393(10182), pp.1745-1759.

Kloppenburg, M. and Berenbaum, F., 2020. Osteoarthritis year in review 2019: epidemiology and therapy. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage28(3), pp.242-248.

Mora, J.C., Przkora, R. and Cruz-Almeida, Y., 2018. Knee osteoarthritis: pathophysiology and current treatment modalities. Journal of pain research11, p.2189.

 

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Topics: Health, Arthritis, Osteoarthritis

Calvin Leong

Written by Calvin Leong

Calvin Leong holds a Master in Medical Education from the University of Dundee, United Kingdom. He is certified in Clinical Wound Care by the ASEAN Wound Care Association. Calvin has 20 years of clinical and lecturing experience focusing on Mentoring in Healthcare, Traumatology and Medical Sciences. Calvin is HRDC certified trainer. He is also a Life Member of The Malaysian Association for the Study of Pain (MASP) and the Malaysian Society of Wound Care Professionals (MSWCP).

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