Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and affects many people. It typically affects people over the age of 50 though it is not uncommon to see it in younger people. The presence of OA does not always correlate with one’s symptoms however and this will vary from person to person. Generally, OA is a progressive condition whereby the cartilage that surrounds certain joints begins to erode over time – this is as normal as going grey or developing wrinkles with age! However, in OA this cartilage erosion will continue and bone spurs will form in the joint. This can worsen until there are areas of bone left unprotected by cartilage.
When this happens, pain is usually the primary symptom, though other symptoms include creaking in the joint, stiffness in the morning, bony tenderness or enlargement. OA commonly affects weight bearing joints and so it is very common in hips and knees. There are both modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for developing OA. There can be hereditary reasons such as issues associated with genes responsible for making cartilage, accidents like previous injuries to joints or cartilage as well as obesity, which can mean more load is placed on the joints when moving around.
There are plenty of options regarding treatment for osteoarthritis. Typically, conservative treatment is opted for first, with a good body of evidence supporting exercise therapy and physio as a viable method of treating OA symptoms and improving pain and function. Exercising the muscles surrounding weight bearing joints can aid in how the joints are loaded and improve the overall function of the joint, this is true for the osteoarthritic joint as well. There are other options including injections and pain medications, however when used alone these options perform more poorly at the one year mark than exercise therapy, despite having similar results at the four week mark. However, they do provide an excellent window of opportunity in the particularly painful OA case to get a more effective exercise routine going.
Invasive procedures like knee and hip replacements are also performed in cases of OA where conservative management has failed and the person’s symptoms are greatly affecting their quality of life. We will all experience some degree of wear and tear at some point in our lives. Plenty can still be done with osteoarthritis to experience a full and healthy, active lifestyle.