by Kimberley Allen R.N.
Of the more than 100 different types of arthritis osteoarthritis (OA) is the most commonly diagnosed form and unlike other forms of arthritis that are systemic OA is a disease that affects only the joints. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions our joints becomes damaged or “worn out”. Osteoarthritis affects over 25 million people in the US. It occurs more commonly over the age of 55yrs and is more common in women than men.
There are 2 basic classifications of osteoarthritis, primary and secondary. Primary Osteoarthritis is usually associated with aging, however aging does not cause osteoarthritis. Cartilage has a high water content making it cushiony, as we age the amount of water in the cartilage decreases causing the cartilage to become dry and hardened.
Secondary osteoarthritis is the more common of the two classifications. Mostly because of the number and variety of factors
that can cause osteoarthritis to develop. Congenital joint disorders is the leading cause of osteoarthritis before the age of 55. Obesity and diabetes are the leading causes of secondary osteoarthritis in adults. In fact obesity is the leading cause of osteoarthritis in weight bearing joints, especially the knees. Other common risk factors include existing inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus as well as repeated injury. There are also a variety of other factors that can cause osteoarthritis.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary significantly in severity from person to person with some being severly debilitated while others may have almost no symptoms at all. The symptoms can also be intermittent with a person having years without any symptoms. The three most common characteristics of osteoarthritis are inflammation in and around the affected joint(s), damage to the cartilage and bony growths that develop around the edges of the joints. Osteoarthritis most frequently develops in the weight bearing joints, the hips, and knees as well as the hands, but it can develop in any joint. The most
common symptom if isteoarthritis is pain and stiffness in the affected joint(s). The pain tends to worsen as activity increases and as it becomes later in the day. The knees and hips become more difficult to move after long periods of inactivity like sitting in a theater etc.
As there is no actual cure for osteoarthritis the goal is to manage the symptoms, improve and maintain optimal level of functioning. Many treatment plans focus on weight reduction and control as well as diet. Exercise is also a significant part of maintaining you optimal level of functioning. Swimming is one of the most recommended types of exercise for almost all arthritis sufferers because it allows you to exercise the joints with minimal impact. Walking and cycling are other low impact exercises that are very beneficial for people suffering with osteoarthritis. For those with more severe symptoms using over the counter pain relievers like acetominaphen or NSAID’s may be helpful. For those suffering from severe pain and immobility
the option of surgery holds significant promise. Hip and knee replacement surgery has become more common and the materials used for the replacement joints have improved.
Most people, including my father, have told me after the surgery that they wish they had done it sooner. My father was always an active person until osteoarthritis set into his knee. Then he became this crabby old man that didn’t want to do anything. I tried to talk to him about the possibility of surgery, but oh no he was having none of that. Finally one of his friends to him how much better his knee was after surgery and he decided to do it. After he was quite sheepish when he told me he
knows he should have listened and had the surgery much sooner.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.