AN INTRODUCTION TO OSTEOARTHRITIS
The word arthritis means inflammation (swelling) of a joint. Osteoarthritis, also known as "wear and tear" arthritis is the most common type of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis affects the articular cartilage in a joint. Articular cartilage is the smooth coating that covers the surface of the bones inside a joint. Articular cartilage also cushions and helps lubricate the joint surfaces. In osteoarthritis the articular cartilage is damaged. Over time the articular cartilage can thin or form cracks. Pieces of articular cartilage may come loose and float inside the joint, further irritating the joint. After a long period of time the articular cartilage can become completely "worn away" and the bones can rub together.
Osteoarthritis usually comes on slowly and results in joint pain, stiffness and/or swelling. Sometimes a grating sound can be heard when a joint is moved, such as the knee when going up or down stairs. Bumps may also appear around the joint. Sometimes a joint can have a mild amount of osteoarthritis and feel perfectly fine.
Most types of treatment for osteoarthritis work best when started early, before there is a lot of "wear and tear". For this reason establishing a correct diagnosis is important. In some cases osteoarthritis can be diagnosed based on the medical history and physical examination of the affected joint(s). An x-ray may be ordered to determine how much joint damage there is. Sometimes blood tests or joint fluid tests are ordered to confirm the diagnosis or to distinguish between different types of arthritis.
Some risk factors for osteoarthritis include:
- Previous joint injury.
- Family history of osteoarthritis.
- Damage to the joint from other types of arthritis (eg. Rheumatoid Arthritis).
- Increasing age.
- Being overweight (affects mainly weight bearing joints).
Much can be done to help people who have osteoarthritis. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, control swelling and maintain or improve mobility of the affected joint. Unfortunately there is no known cure for osteoarthritis.
Every osteoarthritic joint is different, and there should be a team approach to treatment. Some available treatments include exercises, medications, education on activity modification, weight loss, heat and cold therapy, techniques for joint protection, injections and in some cases surgery. Healthcare Professionals with training in how deal with people with osteoarthritis can help outline a treatment program.
To read more about osteoarthritis visit the links section of OA Health Info. Links have been provided to other websites on osteoarthritis.
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