Managing osteoarthritis successfully (OA) doesn’t have to be overwhelming. OA is the most common types of arthritis in older people and affects more than 30 million men and women in the United States. Women are affected more often than men. It’s also called degenerative joint disease or “wear-and-tear” arthritis. And there’s a good reason for that.
What causes Osteoarthritis?
The end of every bone in your body is covered with cartilage. This firm and rubbery tissue is a natural shock absorber and reduces the friction between the bones in a joint. As you grow older, your joints stiffen and the cartilage is slowly worn down. The cartilage can deteriorate to the point that one bone rubs against the other. It’s all about wear-and-tear.
As a result, you’ll feel discomfort and pain. Usually, osteoarthritis develops in the weight-bearing joints of the knees, hips, or spine. . Maybe some joints feel stiff and creaky. Especially if you’ve been inactive for a long period, like during a long car trip. You may also find that you lose your range of motion. It’s suddenly painful to bend. OA is also common in the fingers. You may find that your fingers hurt when you button up a shirt.
In most cases, OA is simply a result of the normal wear-and-tear over the years. If you’ve dislocated a joint, or torn a ligament or cartilage, you run a higher risk of developing OA. In addition, some people may have a genetic defect or joint abnormality that makes them more vulnerable.
Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis doesn’t affect the body’s organs or cause illness. But it can lead to deformities. If you lose a lot of cartilage in your knee joints, you may find that your knees curve out. Sometimes, bony spurs along the spine develop. These can lead to pain, numbness, or tingling.
Your doctors can diagnose OA using your medical history, a physical examination, X-rays, and blood tests. If you’re diagnosed with OA, it’s important to become proactive in managing the condition so that you can continue living a full and active life. Here are some things you can do to help relieve your symptoms and improve the function of your joints.
There is no treatment to stop the erosion of cartilage in the joints, but there are ways to improve joint function. Physical therapy can help to increase your flexibility and strengthen the muscles around the affected joints. Sometimes, the therapist will use heat packs or compresses to relieve pain.
You can use supportive devices to reduce the stress on your joints and ease the pain. A knee brace can reduce swelling and pressure. It also increases stability in your knee by shifting your weight away from the damaged part of your knee. You can also try walking with canes, crutches, or walkers. If you suffer from spinal osteoarthritis, you may want to consider switching to a firmer mattress and wearing a back brace or neck collar.
When your osteoarthritis flares up, you can take over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen) for relief. Another options are pain-relieving creams or sprays which you apply directly to the sore area. If these don’t help, your doctor may suggest an injection of steroids or hyaluronans directly into the joint.
If you have OA, you may be tempted to avoid exercise because you’re concerned that it will cause pain. But if you go for low-impact activities such as swimming, walking, or bicycling, you will improve your mobility and increase strength. You can also training with light weights to strengthen the muscles that surround your joints. For example, strengthening the quadriceps can reduce pain in the knees.
Watch your Weight
Above all, remember that the most important thing you can do to manage OA is keep your weight in check. Extra weight puts your joints under extra pressure and causes pain. Losing weight not only cuts down on pain, but may also reduce long-term joint damage. And here’s another advantage: By maintaining a healthy weight, you also lower your risk of other health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
OA is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that doesn’t have a cure. But if you become proactive and take the right steps to manage your condition, you’ll feel more grateful for what you have and see that the overall outlook is positive.