Taking Care of You: Osteoarthritis
Asif Zia, MD
Board Certified Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease
Lillington Medical Services
Arthritis is a disease that destroys joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues in the body. Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis and is a joint disorder where the joint’s cartilage breaks down causing bones to rub against each other leading to pain, stiffness and loss of movement in the joint.
Close to 27 million adults have OA according to the National Arthritis Foundation. The disease can hinder a person’s quality of life and limit daily activities while also complicating other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
OA is generally considered a normal result of aging and is common in people of all races and backgrounds. It usually appears after age 45, and overall more women have OA than men.
There are many factors that are possible causes of OA:
- OA tends to run in families.
- Being overweight increases the risk of OA in the hip, knee, ankle, and foot joints because extra weight causes more wear and tear.
- Fractures or other joint injuries can lead to OA later in life. This includes injuries to the cartilage and ligaments in your joints.
- Jobs that involve kneeling or squatting for more than an hour a day put you at the highest risk. Jobs that involve lifting, climbing stairs, or walking also put you at risk.
- Playing sports that involve direct impact on the joint (such as football), twisting (such as basketball or soccer), or throwing also increase the risk of arthritis.
Medical conditions that can lead to OA include:
- Bleeding disorders that cause bleeding in the joint, such as hemophilia.
- Disorders that block the blood supply near a joint and lead to avascular necrosis.
- Other types of arthritis, such as chronic gout, pseudogout, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Pain and stiffness in the joints are the most common symptoms of OA. The pain is often worse after exercise and when you put weight or pressure on the joint.
If you have osteoarthritis, your joints probably become stiffer and harder to move over time. You may notice a rubbing, grating, or crackling sound when you move the joint.
The phrase “morning stiffness” refers to the pain and stiffness you may feel when you first wake up in the morning. Stiffness usually lasts for 30 minutes or less. It is improved by mild activity that “warms up” the joint.
During the day, the pain may get worse when you’re active and feel better when you are resting. After a while, the pain may be present when you are resting. It may even wake you up at night.
Some people have no symptoms of OA even though they have the disease. In such cases, X-rays are used to check for joint space and signs of wearing on the ends of bones to determine if a patient has OA.
Tests for OA
No blood tests are helpful in diagnosing OA. Physicians will look for the following factors during a physical exam to help determine if a patient has OA:
- Joint movement that may cause a cracking (grating) sound, called crepitation
- Joint swelling (bones around the joints may feel larger than normal)
- Limited range of motion
- Tenderness when the joint is pressed
- Normal movement is often painful
The physician may order an x-ray of affected joints to check for a loss of joint space. In advanced cases, the x-ray will show a wearing down of the ends of the affected bone and bone spurs.
There is no cure for OA, but its symptoms can be controlled through a variety of options:
- Medications – Over-the-counter pain relievers and/or prescription medication.
- Lifestyle Changes – Staying active and getting exercise helps maintain joint and overall movement. If your work is causing stress in certain joints, you may need to adjust your work area or change work tasks.
- Physical Therapy – Improve muscle strength and the motion of stiff joints, as well as your sense of balance.
- Massage Therapy – Provides short-term pain relief.
- Braces – Support weakened joints.
- Alternative Treatments – Acupuncture and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe, pronounced “Sammy”), a man-made form of a natural byproduct of the amino acid methionine, are options.
- Surgery – To replace or repair damaged joints.
To learn more about Dr. Zia and other Harnett Health medical staff, including orthopedic specialists, please visit our Find A Physician tool online at HarnettHealth.org.