May is Arthritis Awareness Month. According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis affects more than 50 million Americans and is one of the most common causes of disability. Arthritis is the common term to describe about 100 conditions that cause joint pain or joint disease. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, especially among older people.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative form of arthritis. Unlike some other forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only joints and not the internal organs. According to the National Institute on Aging, it occurs when cartilage, the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones within the joints, breaks down and wears away. In some cases, all of the cartilage may wear away, leaving bones that rub up against each other.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include stiffness, mild to severe joint pain, swelling, tenderness and a crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone. It commonly affects the hands, lower back, neck and weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips and feet. The condition can also cause bone spurs to grow on the edges of joints. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space, which causes more pain and damage.
Where it develops
The knees are the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. The condition in the knees can lead to disability. Symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include stiffness, swelling, and pain, which make it hard to walk, climb stairs and get in and out of chairs and bathtubs. The hips are also a common site for osteoarthritis. Symptoms of hip osteoarthritis include pain and stiffness of the joint itself. Sometimes, pain is felt in the groin, inner thigh, buttocks or even the knees. Osteoarthritis of the hip may limit moving and bending, making daily activities such as dressing and putting on shoes a challenge.
Osteoarthritis of the hands is related to gender and family history. Osteoarthritis of the hands is more common among women than men. Women usually develop the condition after menopause. A woman with a close female relative who has or had osteoarthritis in their hands is at greater risk for developing it as well. Osteoarthritis of the spine may show up as stiffness and pain in the neck or lower back. In some cases, arthritis-related changes in the spine can cause pressure on the nerves where they exit the spinal column, resulting in weakness, tingling, or numbness of the arms and legs. In severe cases, this can even affect bladder and bowel function.
What can you do?
The chance of developing osteoarthritis increases with age. It is caused by a number of factors, including excess weight, family history, improper joint alignment, joint stress and previous injury. To diagnose osteoarthritis, a doctor will use a combination of methods and tests, including taking a medical history, physical examination, x-rays and laboratory tests. Although there is no cure for the condition, there are several treatment options that can help people with arthritis live full and rich lives. Symptom management can include balancing activity with rest, maintaining a healthy weight, strengthening muscles around affected joints for more support, medication, regular exercise, surgery, hot and cold therapies and using assistive devices.
If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of osteoarthritis, contact your doctor or healthcare provider about being checked.