What is Osteoarthritis?

The name speaks for itself, is a combination of three Greek words. “Osteo” meaning bone, “arth” meaning joint and “itis” meaning disease or inflammation. Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease due to a loss of cartilage, which is meant to cushion the bones, and joint degeneration. When the cartilage wears out there is nothing to reduce friction between bones and pain ensues. The most common joints affected are the weight-bearing joints for example the knees, hips, spine, and wrists. 

What can cause Osteoarthritis?

Many different things can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, some risk factors are modifiable like obesity, trauma, and heavy labor and some are not modifiable like increasing age, female gender, and family history of osteoarthritis.

What are the symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

Joint stiffness in the morning, pain swelling or tenderness at the joint, crepitus which is the “crunching” sound of bone rubbing against bone. Pain in the joints can radiate to other areas of the body, for example, hip osteoarthritis can cause pain to radiate around to the buttocks or down to the knee.

How to diagnose Osteoarthritis?

There is no one test to diagnose osteoarthritis. An x-ray of the joint can show a narrowing of the joint space and abnormal bone growth. A simple physical exam can show a loss of motion and even routine movements like walking can be difficult.

How to treat Osteoarthritis?

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, however, treatment can help relieve pain and increase mobility. 

Simple lifestyle modifications like weight loss can put less pressure on the joints resulting in less pain. Switching from high impact activities like jogging to low impact activities like swimming will also decrease stress on the joints. 

Physical therapy can also be utilized to strengthen muscles and take some of the pressure off the bones. 

When simple lifestyle modifications and physical therapy are not enough medication can be added to ones treatment plan, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, naproxen, and ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling. Other anti-inflammatory agents like steroids can also be used to help reduce swelling and decrease pain. 

When lifestyle modifications and medications are not enough, and osteoarthritis still causes severe disability there are some surgical options. For example, hip osteoarthritis can be treated in several ways. An osteotomy cuts and realigns the thighbone to help take some pressure off the hip. A hip resurfacing removes and covers some of the damaged bone replacing it with metal to reduce friction. A total hip replacement is in some cases necessary. The damaged hip bones, the acetabulum, and the femoral head are entirely replaced with metal plastic or ceramics.  

Additionally, there are new and exciting experimental treatments being worked on. 

Stem cell therapy involves utilizing mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) found in the bone marrow. These MSCs release anti-inflammatory factors which help the body heal and lessen pain. They can also be used to make artificial tissue in a lab, a process called tissue engineering, this artificial tissue can then be placed back into the body.

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