There are too many different types of arthritis to keep straight. Osteoarthritis is the most common form, affecting 27 million people in the United States each year. It is caused by the wearing down of the protective cartilage inside a joint and is very common because cartilage naturally wears down as we age. This reduction in cartilage generally causes problems in the affected joint.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re experiencing pain, tenderness, loss of flexibility, tenderness, stiffness, a grating sensation when you use the joint or bone spurs, you might have osteoarthritis. It most frequently occurs in the knees, hips, lower back, fingers and neck as these joints are frequently used and the cartilage is prone to wearing down, but can affect any joint. If you’re noticing prolonged pain or stiffness, it’s time to see your doctor. They will likely take X-rays or MRIs of the affected joint to determine a diagnosis. It’s also possible they will recommend a blood test to rule out other illnesses or conditions.
Risk Factors and Prevention Tips
Of course, it’s better to be proactive about conditions such as arthritis than reactive and knowing your risk factors will help you take care of your body in the right way. Here are risk factors to be aware of that can make you more susceptible to osteoarthritis:
- Age – The older you are the more likely you are to have osteoarthritis.
- Gender – More women are diagnosed with osteoarthritis than men.
- Obesity – The heavier you are, the more stress your body, including your joints, takes on.
- Previous injuries – Cartilage can take a while to heal and not allowing it to fully do so can lead to continued injury of that joint and an overall breakdown in cartilage.
- Genetics – It seems that in some cases, osteoarthritis is handed down genetically in families.
- Occupation – If you work in a job that requires you to perform repetitive tasks with the same joint, the likelihood that the joint you’re using will develop osteoarthritis increases.
You may not be able to change your age, gender or genetics, but you can maintain a healthy weight. You can ensure you’re getting good sleep, drinking enough water, exercising regularly (after it has been approved by your physician) and allowing injuries to heal completely.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease and there is no cure, but degeneration doesn’t have to happen overnight. The best kind of treatment options are medicine and good, old-fashioned exercise, as contrary as that might seem. Your doctor will likely suggest medication to manage the stiffness, pain and swelling you’re experiencing, but exercise will be invaluable in maintaining flexibility and building strength. Talk to your physician about specific exercise regimens that may be right for you. Typically, moderate exercise and light strength training will do the trick. Building muscle will take some of the stress off your joints and staying active through gentler weight-bearing exercise like walking or gardening will help you maintain flexibility.
Stretching your joints slowly and gently may also help you improve flexibility and lessen your chances of injury – but again, make sure you talk with your doctor about a regimen that’s appropriate for you.
If your osteoarthritis is too advanced for conservative treatment, a physical or occupational therapist may be an option to help teach you how to use your joints without putting too much stress on them and assist you with range of motion exercises, heat and cold therapies and assistive devices.
Extremely damaged joints may need to be surgically replaced, but this is a last resort and isn’t available for all affected joints.
What I want you to take away from this is that the best way to approach osteoarthritis is to be proactive. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise, take care of your body and if you start to notice joint pain, see your doctor so that you can get out ahead of the condition with conservative treatment.
Dr. Michelle Udayamurthy is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold. She cares for her patients at the Main Campus. She views the doctor-patient relationship as one of the most important parts of healthcare. Her clinical interest is preventive medicine.