There are a hundred types of arthritis, and osteoarthritis is the most common. In Canada, osteoarthritis affects one (1) in ten (10) Canadians or more than 3 million individuals. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints in the neck, hands, back, hips, and knees. It occurs when the protective cartilage on the edge of the bones wears down over time. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatments to relieve pain and maintain joint movement include medication, surgery, rest, and exercise.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Cartilage protects the joints and over time, the joints rub bone-on-bone causing the following symptoms:
- Tenderness: The joints will feel tender if applied with pressure.
- Loss of flexibility: The joints lose range of motion.
- Pain: During or after joint movements
- Stiffness: Typically occurs in the morning upon waking up or after a period of inactivity
- Grating sensation: You may feel or hear a grating sensation when moving the joints.
- Swelling: Occurs due to inflammation in the joints
- Bone spurs: may form around the joint which may feel like hard lumps.
What are the risk factors for osteoarthritis?
These factors increase your risks of having osteoarthritis:
- Age. The risk of osteoarthritis increases with age.
- Previous injuries due to playing sports or an accident
- Bone deformities or defective cartilage from birth
- Obesity can add more pressure on the joints.
- Inactive lifestyle can affect the functions of the cartilage of the joints.
- Other diseases – Paget’s disease, diabetes, or underactive thyroid
- Occupational impact – A job that may involve repeated stress on joints may cause one to have osteoarthritis.
What are the treatments for osteoarthritis?
As there is no cure for osteoarthritis, the treatments only help manage the pain and maintain the best range of motion possible.
- Medications – used to reduce pain and inflammation:
- Acetaminophen – helps manage the pain but will not reduce inflammation. It is effective for mild to moderate pain and is available over the counter at your local pharmacy.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – used to reduce inflammation and pain. Some NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen are available as over-the-counter products. Eating food before taking NSAIDs can help reduce the common side effect of an upset stomach. NSAIDs’ side effects include ringing in the ears, cardiovascular, and bleeding problems as well as liver and kidney damage.
- Narcotics – Your doctor may prescribe medication that contains narcotics such as codeine for severe pain. Narcotics are subject to dependence, and its side effects include drowsiness and constipation.
- Therapy – used to keep the joints active:
- Physiotherapy – A physical therapist can develop an exercise routine to help you strengthen the joints and increase your range of motion.
- Occupational therapy – can help you find ways to reduce stress on the affected joints as you go through your daily tasks
- Braces or supports – are available for various joints to provide support and give you strength, i.e., knee braces
- Chronic pain workshops – are available through your local Canadian Arthritis Society, which can be helpful for you to learn ways to cope with the pain
- Other Procedures
- Joint replacement – for hip and knee joints where the damaged surfaces are removed and then replaced with plastic and metal prostheses
- Cortisone shots – may relieve the pain when injected into the space between the affected joints. The number of cortisone shots has to be limited as they can cause more joint damage.
- Lubrication injections – Hyaluronic acid derivatives can provide relief by providing a cushioning effect in the joint.
- Realigning bones – During a surgery called an osteotomy, the bone above or below the knee is cut to realign the leg so the body weight is shifted away from the worn-out part of the knee.
- Alternative Medicine
- Glucosamine and chondroitin – Some people have found relief using these nutritional supplements. Do not use glucosamine if you have shellfish allergies. These supplements can interact with blood thinners and precipitate bleeding problems.
- Acupuncture – can improve function and relieve pain for some people. The procedure involves inserting hair-fine needles into the skin at precise locations.
- Tai Chi and yoga – involve gentle exercises and stretches combined with deep breathing, which can help you maintain your range of motion of the affected joint
Which lifestyle changes to consider?
- Lose weight – if you are overweight, the extra pounds can cause added pressure on the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Discuss a healthy eating plan with a nutritionist and combine it with an exercise program.
- Rest the inflamed joints. Find activities that do not require the use of the affected joint.
- Exercise – can increase your range of motion by keeping it active. Exercise can also strengthen the muscles around the affected joint to give it more stability. Start with gentle exercises, such as walking or swimming.
- Hot and cold therapy – Both can help relieve the pain in your joint. Cold therapy relieves muscle spasms, whereas heat can relieve stiffness.
- Over-the-counter pain creams – can provide temporary relief and works best on the joints which are close to the surface of your skin, such as the knees and fingers
- Positive attitude – is important as arthritis pain can have a negative impact on your mood when activities cause you to hurt regularly
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