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How Osteoarthritis Affects You

July 4, 2013

Originally published in The Wellspring Collective

What it is

Arthritis is the general term meaning inflammation of the jointsOsteoarthritis is the most common kind, and is commonly known as wear-and-tear arthritis. Occurring in almost any joint in the body, osteoarthritis is identified with the breakdown of cartilage in the joints.

It is most prevalent in the weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips and spine. The large toe, fingers, neck, and thumb can also be affected. Unless previous injury or excessive stress is involved, other joints are usually not involved. Even though as you age, you may have osteoarthritis to some degree, it is a disease, and not part of the normal aging process.

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What it does

Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage, the rubbery material covering the ends of bones in normal joints. It acts as a shock absorber reducing joint friction. It also has the ability to change shape when compressed.

When osteoarthritis is present, it causes the cartilage to become stiff and loses its elasticity. This will cause the joint to be more susceptible to damage. Pain occurs when the cartilage deteriorates causing the ligaments and tendons to stretch. Because of the pain and stiffness, osteoarthritis can make it difficult to do daily activities including your job, play sports or even get around with ease.

Its affects

Reduced motion and joint pain are the primary symptoms of people with osteoarthritis. It differs from other forms of arthritis by only affecting joint and not other internal organs. The second most common form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, affects other parts of the body as well as joints. Osteoarthritis is more common among females than males, especially after the age of 50 years. A major cause of work disability and reduced quality of life is due to loss of joint function caused by osteoarthritis.

The causes

Osteoarthritis usually happens gradually over time. Some risk factors that might lead to it include:

  • Being overweight.
  • Getting older.
  • Joint injury.
  • Joints that are not properly formed.
  • A genetic defect in joint cartilage.
  • Stresses on the joints from certain jobs and playing sports.

Treatment

There is no cure for osteoarthritis and currently, there is no specific treatment to halt cartilage degeneration or to repair damaged cartilage in osteoarthritis.  Treatment consists of exercise, manual therapy, lifestyle modification, medication and other interventions to alleviate pain and maintain joint movement. Osteoarthritis treatment plans can involve:

  • Exercise.
  • Weight control.
  • Rest and joint care.
  • Nondrug pain relief techniques to control pain.
  • Medicines. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin
  • Complementary and alternative therapies.
  • Surgery.

According to Healthline.com, “Exercise is crucial. It can help strengthen muscles and aid in weight loss, which greatly relieves OA symptoms. In fact, in some cases, weight loss can also lead to some restoration of cartilage. Hot and cold wraps are another effective treatment. And, some patients take dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Some studies indicate that these supplements are effective and there are no serious side effects associated with them.”

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