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Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests For Osteoarthritis

Submitted on March 27, 2012

There are several different types of arthritis that have been known to affect people living across the globe and the most common one is osteoarthritis. This condition can be described as a degenerative disease that has an adverse effect on the various joints in your body. It leads to the breakdown of the cartilage in your joints and can occur in almost any joint; however, it is most commonly seen in the weight bearing joints, such as the spine, knees and hips, as well as the neck, fingers, thumb and the large toe. In most cases, osteoarthritis does not really occur in a joint, unless there is a previous history of stress, trauma or injuries.

This condition could cause the cartilage in your joints to become stiff. This in turn makes them lose their elasticity, because of which their susceptibility to damage increases. Over a period of time, the cartilage may wear away in certain areas and its ability to act as a shock absorber can decrease significantly. After deterioration of the cartilage, any stretching in the ligaments and tendons can cause a lot of pain.

Osteoarthritis is more commonly seen in the elderly. People below the age of 40 rarely suffer from this condition. As the cartilage in your joints wears down over a period of time, the risks of osteoarthritis increase significantly. It has also been seen that, for reasons unknown, women are more likely to develop this condition, than men are. You may also suffer from osteoarthritis in case you are obese, as carrying a high body weight places excess stress on certain joints.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for osteoarthritis. However, it is important that you undergo treatment, to manage the pain and the other uncomfortable symptoms. If left untreated, this condition could interfere with your ability to work or perform daily tasks.

Tests Recommended

In order to determine if you are suffering from this condition, there are a few medical tests that your doctor may advise you to undergo. At first, your doctor will probably conduct a physical exam and study your symptoms carefully. Given below are some of the other osteoarthritis tests that may be recommended:

  • X-rays: Through this imaging test, your doctor will check if there is a narrowing in your joints, which is a sign of cartilage breakdown. The formation of bone spurs around the joint is also revealed in the x ray.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Radio waves and a strong magnetic field are used during this test, to produce images of the bones and the soft tissues around them, including the bone cartilage.
  • Blood tests: Like in case of most other conditions, your health care provider may order blood tests, just to rule out the possibility of other joint-pain causes, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Joint fluid analysis: To conduct joint fluid analysis, the doctor draws out some fluid from the joint that is affected using a needle. The fluid sample is then tested and examined in a lab to make sure if the pain is a result of arthritis or that of some other infection.

These tests can also help your doctor identify the severity of the condition.

Causes

The cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in your joints can wear away with time, due to several different reasons. When this happens, the smooth surface of the cartilage becomes rough and causes irritation. If the cartilage happens to wear off completely, your bones will start rubbing against each other. As a result, the ends of the bones go through some severe damage and you experience severe pain in the joints. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is not easy to identify the exact causes of arthritis and researchers believe that a combination of different factors lead to the condition. Given below are some of the common osteoarthritis causes:

  • The aging process: Several people suffer from this condition, mainly because of advancing age and the amount of wear and tear their bones go through in the process. This is probably why osteoarthritis is a lot more common in older people.
  • Trauma: In certain instances people develop osteoarthritis at a later date, because of a previous joint injury or stress. Most of the joint injuries occur due to an accident or even while playing a sport. Performing a task repetitively for a long period of time could also place a lot of stress on your bones, increasing the risks of suffering from osteoarthritis.
  • Genetic factors: Like most other conditions, osteoarthritis could also be heredity. You may also be at a high risk of developing this condition if you have a parent, sibling or immediate family member who suffers from osteoarthritis.
  • Muscle weakness: There are several activities and conditions that can lead to weakness in the muscles, which in turn could lead to osteoarthritis.
  • Obesity: Carrying extra body weight puts a lot of pressure on certain joints in your body, which could be the factor that triggers osteoarthritis.

Symptoms

Most of the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis develop slowly and get worse with time. It is not very difficult to recognize the symptoms of arthritis, mainly because they involve the joints. You will probably need to consult a doctor to determine if you are suffering from osteoarthritis or any other type of arthritis. Given below are some of the most common osteoarthritis symptoms:

  • Bone spurs: The formation of extra bits of bone are noticed around the affected joint. These additional bone pieces are known as bone spurs and they feel like hard lumps when touched.
  • Grating sensation: Every time you use the joint that has been affected by osteoarthritis, you may hear a grating sound, or experience a grating sensation in that particular joint.
  • Loss of flexibility: It is a well-known fact that osteoarthritis reduces a person’s range of motion. This condition causes you to lose some of your flexibility.
  • Pain: Osteoarthritis leads to a considerable amount of pain in the joints, especially when you are moving around. At times, you may also experience severe joint pain, after movement.
  • Stiffness: This is one of the main symptoms of osteoarthritis. The stiffness in the joints is most noticeable upon waking up in the morning, or after long periods of inactivity.
  • Tenderness: The affected joints will feel tender to the touch, in case you apply even light pressure to it.

In case you happen to notice stiffness in the joints, accompanied by swelling or severe pain, it is important for you to consult your doctor and identify its possible causes.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this condition, but with the help of the right osteoarthritis treatment, you can get relief from the uncomfortable symptoms. It is important for you to begin treatment as soon as the condition is diagnosed, in order to maintain joint movement, so that you can carry out your day to day tasks, without too much difficulty. Given below are some of the different osteoarthritis treatment options:

Medicines

There are several medicines that your doctor can prescribe, for reducing pain and inflammation. It is necessary that you strictly follow the medications prescribed by the doctor so as to keep the discomfort at bay and lead a comfortable life.

Therapy

In order to maintain your flexibility and motion in your joints, it is important that you undergo physical therapy. The individualized exercises strengthen your muscles, thereby reducing pain. Your therapist can also teach you ways of performing different tasks, without putting additional pressure on your joints.

Surgery

In case you do not see the desired results with medication and therapy, your doctor may recommend one of the surgical procedures given below:

  • Fusing bones
  • Joint replacement
  • Realignment of bones
  • Viscosupplementation

Supportive treatment

Many people turn towards supportive treatment measures for osteoarthritis, just to reduce the discomfort caused by this condition. Most people are aware of the fact that these measures do not treat the condition in any way, but simply alleviate the pain. Complementary therapies like acupuncture, yoga, heat therapy and cold therapy are believed to help treat osteoarthritis symptoms, though there is no scientific evidence to back this claim.

Lifestyle changes

The importance of a healthy lifestyle should not be underestimated when it comes to osteoarthritis treatment. In order to minimize the symptoms of the condition, you need to:

  • Rest the inflamed joint for a few hours every day.
  • Engage in pre-approved exercises, which could include walking and swimming.
  • Maintain the right body weight, by following a healthy and nutritious diet.
  • Use assistive devices that can make it easier for you to perform daily activities, without putting excess pressure.
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