What is it
Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis the medical term for a wide variety of disorders that involve inflammation of a joint. OA results from the gradual destruction of cartilage, the smooth lining of a joint that reduces friction and absorbs shock. As the disease develops progressively over the years, the tendon cracks and flakes off, resulting to repeated pain and rarely irregularity when the underlying and now visible bones rub together. Almost all joints may be affected, but it is most communal in the fingers, feet and ankles, hips, spines, knees and neck.
There are two types of OA. Primary osteoarthritis, resulting from normal wear and tear, most frequently disturbs thumb joints and the end joints of other fingers, and the hips, knees, neck, and lower spine. Secondary osteoarthritis occur right after injury to a joint; from disease; or as a result of long-lasting shock (due to posture problems, obesity or work-related abuse).
In certain individuals signs of OA stay mild or even disappear. In others (including an estimated 16 million Americans, most of them elderly), symptoms grow progressively worse until they are disabling. Because the joints become stiff and painful, a person’s natural tendency is to minimize movement. Unfortunately, this can simply lead to a wasting of the muscles and to stiffer joints and consequently more pain since inactivity weakens the muscles that stabilize joints.
For some people, symptoms remain mild or nonexistent, while for others, symptoms worsen to the point where they become disabling.
- Toughness in the morning or after work out.
- Joint painfulness and pain that is serious by movement, calmed by relaxation.
- Restricted movement and loss of elasticity in the joints.
- Noticeable crunching sounds when on affected joint moves.
- Redness, warmth, or swelling of a joint (rare).
What causes it
The particular cause of osteoarthritis is still unidentified; however it seems to be a blend of numerous factors, most markedly a breakdown of the cartilage, the cushioning material of the joints. Time and use may wear it away, but OA is now known to be not just wear and tear but a disease that stops the cartilage from repairing and renewing itself generally. Genetic issues are also perhaps involved OA seems to run in families. Obesity seems to increase the risk of developing arthritis in the back, hips, and knees. Also, a broken bone or overuse of a joint common among athletes may speed up the development of osteoarthritis.
What if you do nothing
For occasional mild joint pain and stiffness, there is no cause for concern since the symptoms typically clear in a matter of days. This is especially so if arthritis occurs in the fingers. However, if symptoms become more severe, especially if they affect your weight-bearing joints and therefore your daily activities, you may need to seek professional help.
First, see a doctor to make sure your problem really is osteoarthritis. There is no cure at present that can stop or reverse OA. You can, though, help slow the disease’s progress, decrease joint pain, and improve function with the following measures.
Heat and cold can bring relief
Cold packs, warm compresses, heat lamps, and warm baths or showers may bring periods of relief from the throbbing pain or stiffness associated with arthritis. Experiment with both cold and heat to see what works best for you. Apply the heat or cold to the painful joint for 20 minutes three times a day.
Support the joint
A splint, brace, neck collar, crutches, or a cane may provide the support you need, eliminating or reducing stress on a painful, affected joint.
A regular exercise program designed by your physician or physical therapist is one of the few effective therapies recommended to slow down the development and progression of arthritis. The program should be aimed at restoring, maintaining, and increasing flexibility, muscle strength, and overall fitness. Excellent activities include swimming, water aerobics, walking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing, as well as strengthening and stretching exercises.
Increasing evidence indicates that extra weight damages the weight-bearing joints and speeds up the course of arthritis. Reducing your weight to acceptable levels may help stop or reverse the process.
Capsaicin can help
Capsaicin creams can be beneficial for arthritis pain. Capsaicin, the substance that makes hot chili peppers hot, is an ingredient in some nonprescription salves or lotions. Capsaicin acts partly as a counterirritant and partly as a suppressant of pain impulses. Capsaicin creates a little diversionary pain that masks the real one, but it also blocks substance P, which is present in aching joints as part of the body’s pain-and-inflammation chemistry’. You may need to use the cream three or four times daily, and you may not notice any improvement until you’ve applied the cream for a week or more.
Medications may be most effective
A number of drugs can relieve arthritis pain, but you may need to experiment to find the most effective drug and dosage. Acetaminophen (up to 4,000 milligrams per day, the maximum dose recommended by the Food and Drug Administration) is usually the first choice, since it can provide adequate pain relief with fewer side effects than NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If acetaminophen isn’t effective, then NSAIDs are the next option. Moderate doses are usually sufficient to control arthritis pain. Aspirin is not recommended for osteoarthritis because the higher doses necessary for relief may damage the stomach lining.
Any of these drugs can cause problems, however. NSAIDs produce stomach upset in some people and may cause ulcers in a small percentage of long-term users. Overuse of acetaminophen may increase the risk of liver and kidney disease. That’s why, if you are taking any painkiller on a long-term basis, you need a physician’s advice and supervision. That way you can spot trouble early and switch to different drugs and different dosages if necessary.
Osteoarthritis can’t be prevented, but you may be able to slow the progress of the disease by following the self-care measures outlined above. Losing weight (if you are overweight), gradually starting an exercise program, and avoiding any repetitive activities that aggravate joints are the most helpful measures.