Joint with and without osteoarthritis

What is it?

The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) typically affects older people. The cartilage that normally cushions and protects the bones of the joint breaks down over time. Eventually, bone rubs against bone, opening the door to inflammation and other mechanical problems like bone spurs.

Osteoarthritis, sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease, is a type of arthritis that affects the cartilage around joints. Joint cartilage is a gel-like protective tissue found at joint surfaces that provides support and lubrication during movement. When the surface layer of this tissue breaks down, the bones rub together during joint movement, causing pain, swelling, and restricted movement. Although it can occur in any joint, osteoarthritis most often involves the hands, knees, hips, and spine.

It is thought that a number of factors cause this condition, including the natural aging process, joint injury, and repetitive stress from certain jobs or sports activities. Diabetes, gout, and some genetic conditions may also put you at risk.

In order to properly diagnose osteoarthritis your doctor may order either an MRI or X-ray in addition to his physical examination or the joint’s tenderness, swelling and range of motion. Blood tests to rule out other causes of joint pain or joint fluid analysis may also be done.

What are the treatment options?

The treatment for osteoarthritis concentrates on preventing further joint damage. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, joint strengthening exercises, and assistant devices (orthoses) are recommended. Physical therapy may also help restore joint movement and improve strength, thereby offloading the affected joint.

Your doctor may initially suggest acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to minimize pain. In later stages of the disease, several surgical options may need to be discussed. Arthroscopy, for example, entails using a camera to examine the joint and repair the cartilage at the joint surface. Arthrodesis involves the surgical fusion of the bony ends of the joint. Replacement with an artificial joint to maintain function is yet another surgical option.

Physical or occupational therapy are also valid treatment options to create individualized exercise programs to assist with increased range of motion and decreased pain in the joints.

What are the symptoms of OA?

Although some people who have osteoarthritis say they feel no pain, most people who have OA experience pain, feel joint stiffness (especially in the morning), show signs of swelling and tenderness in one or more joints and may even hear a crunching sound in their joints. For some people, OA can become completely debilitating.3

In order to diagnose you properly, your doctor will consider your symptoms and your medical history, examine your joint(s) and order one or more diagnostic tests. Your doctor may order blood work, X-rays, a CT scan or an MRI to get a clear view of the alignment of your painful joint and its condition.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis include:

  • Increased age 
  • Gender- although it is not sure why, women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis 
  • Obesity 
  • Joint injuries even if healed from many years ago 
  • Tasks that place repetitive stress on a particular joint 
  • Genetics 
  • Bone deformities

Rehabilitation Plan - Exercises

If physical or occupational therapy is ordered by your doctor, individualized exercise programs will be provided to you. These programs will likely work on strengthening the muscles around the joint, increasing joint range of motion and decreasing your pain. Occupational therapy will be especially helpful for discovering ways to accomplish your everyday tasks without putting additional stress on the joint.

Regular gentle exercise done on your own is always recommended and will be beneficial in your reduction of pain. Examples include walking and swimming.

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Location Information

  • OrthoKansas


    6265 Rock Chalk Drive
    Suite 1500
    Lawrence, KS 66049