Osteoarthritis is a condition marked by joint pain and stiffness that affects approximately 27 million Americans. While it can impact any joints, it most commonly causes pain in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. It is a leading cause of disability and the most common form of arthritis, and the reason why millions of people struggle to accomplish day-to-day or work-related activities. While the joint damage that osteoarthritis causes can’t be reversed, lifestyle changes and careful treatment can minimize the discomfort of chronic joint pain.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the bones around certain joints wears down. As a result, the bones rub together, causing stiffness and pain.
What are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
While osteoarthritis can impact any adult, it mostly occurs in older individuals.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis may occur slowly over time due to general wear and tear and joint usage, especially among those who lead an active lifestyle. While age is the greatest risk factor for osteoarthritis, other causes of this degenerative joint disease include:
- Ligament issues
- A dislocated joint or another past injury
- Torn cartilage
- Gender, as women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, especially after age 50
- Joint malformation
- Poor posture
- A family history of osteoarthritis
- Race, as some Asian populations have a lower risk of osteoarthritis
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
The symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Pain during movement or a grating sensation when moving that causes a cracking or popping sound
- Stiffness that might be most severe first thing in the morning or after being inactive
- Swelling of the soft tissue around the joint
- Tenderness felt when you apply pressure to the joints
- Mobility restrictions that limit the full range of motion in a joint
- Bone spurs around the joint, which are extra bits of bone that feel like hard lumps
Osteoarthritis Treatment Options
Depending on which joints are impacted and your symptoms’ severity, your doctor will devise a treatment plan to minimize your pain and discomfort and help you maximize your quality of life. Treatment options for osteoarthritis include:
- Pain-relieving prescription medications, which may include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), or prescription NSAIDs
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta), which is mostly used as an antidepressant but also approved to treat osteoarthritis
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Surgery or other procedures, including:
- Cortisone injections into the joint to relieve pain
- Injections of hyaluronic acid into the joint to add cushioning
- Osteotomy, or a bone realignment, if the osteoarthritis is impacting your knee
- Arthroplasty, or joint replacement surgery
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If you are experiencing chronic joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness, and it’s impacting your ability to work, care for your home, and lead a comfortable lifestyle, talk to your doctor. They can determine if osteoarthritis is causing the pain you feel and can devise a treatment plan to minimize your pain.