What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors
Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that is characterized by the presence of damaged cartilage in the joints. It is the most common type of arthritis. There are other forms of arthritis that cause internal organ damage, but only the joints in the body are affected by osteoarthritis. Adults who are ages 60 and above suffer the most from osteoarthritis. When osteoarthritis develops in individuals who are younger than 60, it is generally due to a joint injury. Previous injuries increase the risk of developing this condition.
There are various types of symptoms that are associated with osteoarthritis. Patients suffering from osteoarthritis generally experience chronic pain, joint stiffness, and mobility problems and as time progresses, the symptoms tend to worsen. These types of symptoms may also be periodic as opposed to chronic. Furthermore, osteoarthritis is often held responsible for the development of Heberden’s nodes, which are the result of swelling in the joints of the fingers and toes. Bone spurs in the joints generally cause the nodes to develop. Heberden’s nodes decrease joint movement and typically cause pain, but not in every case.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
A description of joint structure helps provide an understanding of factors that can lead to osteoarthritis. Soft and flexible cartilage tissue is located between bones at the points where they converge. Cartilage is a shock absorber that ensures that joints glide smoothly, and prevents bones from becoming damaged by rubbing together. As time progresses, wear and tear can cause cartilage to become damaged, but blunt trauma or an injury can also cause damage to the cartilage. Serious cartilage damage may allow bones to rub against one another and results in serious pain and inflammation as well as reduced joint flexibility. In addition, pieces of damaged cartilage may travel into the synovial fluid sac that surrounds the joint, called the bursa. The hands, hips, knees, and spinal column are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis.
Although the onset of osteoarthritis is typically the result of gradual joint wear and tear, the following risk factors have been implicated as further causes of this condition:
- Sports and jobs that place excessive stress on the joints
- Underdeveloped joints
- Increasing age
- Being overweight
- Genetic defects that cause abnormal joint cartilage
- A joint injury
Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can be treated, but not cured. The primary treatment goal for this condition is pain relief and improved range of motion. Pharmacotherapy approaches may be the first form of treatment that is utilized and this includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs have been shown to effectively reduce both pain and inflammation. A physician may also prescribe oral corticosteroids such as cortisone as a means of treating joint pain and inflammation.
Non-pharmacotherapy treatments that are often recommended include physical therapy, regular exercise, and stretching. There is also evidence that a nutritious diet can lead to the alleviation of certain symptoms related to osteoarthritis. For example, the progression of this condition can be hindered during the early stages by adding an ample amount of fruits and vegetables to the diet, as well as fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids. The nutrients contained within these foods help reduce inflammation. In addition, fatty foods and red meat should be avoided as they contain fat-producing compounds that can cause joint inflammation to worsen.
If pain relievers and additional non-pharmacotherapy treatments are ineffective, more invasive treatment methods may be recommended. Corticosteroid injections are among the first line of minimally invasive treatment approaches that may be performed in an attempt to reduce inflammation within joints while relieving pain. There are different types of injections such as joint injections, hip joint injections, and knee joint injections. Treatment regimens generally entail receiving multiple corticosteroid injections in order to experience the maximum amount of pain relief.
Biofeedback training is an alternative treatment approach that entails showing patients relaxation techniques and coping strategies that help them learn how to control and reduce their symptoms. This form of training has demonstrated the ability to help some patients effectively address complications they have experienced as a result of osteoarthritis.
Additional alternative therapies such as massage therapy and acupuncture have also provided some patients with pain relief. Acupuncture, in particular, has been shown to be especially beneficial when it is combined with other pain treatments.
Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that primarily affects the joint. Symptoms associated with this condition include chronic or periodic pain, stiff or weak joints, and swelling. Wear and tear or an injury typically causes cartilage damage within a joint, which can lead to the gradual development of this condition.
A cure for osteoarthritis is not available, but several effective treatment methods have been established. Conservative treatment approaches are generally recommended during the early stages and, if they are ineffective or the symptoms worsen, then more invasive methods may be suggested. Individuals who are suffering from the symptoms of chronic osteoarthritis pain should consider discussing corticosteroid injection treatment with a physician as this minimally invasive method has proven to be beneficial at relieving pain and inflammation.
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