A report from the Arthritis Foundation suggests that more than 60 million adults have some form of arthritis. So, the likelihood of you or someone you love being affected by this condition is high.
Osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis – and one of the reasons patients seek support from their primary care physician. Often, medical generalists don’t have the specialized knowledge for this condition, which is why patients are referred to orthopedic doctors.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis causes degeneration to happen to the joint cartilage, which can also affect the bone underneath. This protective cartilage is located at the end of the bones and facilitates frictionless joint movement. As the cartilage wears down, the bones can start to cause pain because the bones are rubbing together.
As this degeneration occurs, it results in stiffness and pain in the joints. The knees, hips, spine, and hands are the joints that are often affected by osteoarthritis.
The breakdown of the cartilage affects the whole joint. Eventually, cartilage changes lead to changes in the bone and muscle attachments.
This condition usually affects middle-aged adults and continues through the later years of life.
In the beginning, the symptoms start out slow. For example, patients might just feel like they are experiencing the aches and pains of “getting older.” However, symptoms of osteoarthritis tend to worsen with time, especially when the condition is left untreated.
Here is an overview of common symptoms patients experience when they have osteoarthritis:
- Joint Pain: The landmark symptom of osteoarthritis is a pain in the joints. This pain is typically worse when the joint is moving or immediately after movement.
- Tenderness: Touch the affected joints, and you will feel tenderness when applying light or medium pressure. Intense pressure can be even more painful.
- Swelling: Local inflammation can cause the joint to swell due to the soft tissue damage that is occurring.
- Rubbing Sensation: Since the joints are losing the cushioning as the cartilage breaks down, it might result in a rubbing or grating sensation when you are moving that joint.
- Popping Joints: Do you hear or feel anything when the joint is in motion? You might notice a crackling or popping sensation.
- Stiffness: If you are inactive, such as when you wake up in the morning, it results in stiffness and discomfort.
- Loss of Flexibility: As the stiffness worsens, it results in a loss of flexibility. You might notice that you are losing range of motion in the joint.
- Bone Spurs: The affected joint can start to develop bone spurs, which are hard lumps: small, extra bits of bone.
Risk Factors: Causes of Osteoarthritis
Since osteoarthritis develops with age, it is sometimes referred to as the “wear and tear” disease. Common risk factors that increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis include:
- Gender: Women have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis than men.
- Weight: People who are obese experience more effects from osteoarthritis because of the added stress the extra weight is putting on the joints.
- Injuries: Previous injuries in the joints seem to increase the risk of osteoarthritis, even if the injuries happened years ago.
- Birth Defects: Some patients are born with defective cartilage or malformed joints, which can contribute to the degeneration of joint cartilage.
- Family History: Osteoarthritis tends to run in families. So, if you have family members with this condition, there is a higher risk that you will be diagnosed as well.
- Repetitive Motion: When the joint is moving the same way over and over again, it causes repetitive stress on the joint and can lead to osteoarthritis.
Why an Orthopedic Doctor for Osteoarthritis?
Unfortunately, osteoarthritis can’t be cured. Once the joints are damaged, there isn’t a way to reverse the damage. But an orthopedic doctor can help with symptom management. A proactive treatment approach might slow the progress and help you avoid more severe symptoms in the future.
An orthopedic doctor takes a proactive approach: partnering with patients to provide immediate relief while also creating a plan for the optimal long-term outcome.
Whether you are in pain because of osteoarthritis or don’t have a diagnosis for your pain, scheduling a consultation with an orthopedic specialist is a great way to find the answers.
Orthopedic doctors have specialty training to treat a variety of conditions affecting the joints and bones. When the condition hinders movement and activities, you can be sure that an orthopedic specialist is the right person to see.
Additionally, many orthopedic doctors specialize in a specific part of the body. For example, you can schedule a consultation with a knee specialist here at Orthopedic Associates if your osteoarthritis is mainly affecting your knees.
Treatment Options: Relief for Osteoarthritis
Even though there are no known treatments to reverse the damage from osteoarthritis, there are things that can be done to reduce your pain and help you enjoy a full and thriving lifestyle.
The goal of osteoarthritis treatment is to reduce your pain, slow the progression of the disease, and improve overall function.
Often, the best approach is to work with an orthopedic specialist as well as other related providers. For example, your orthopedic doctor will likely refer you to a physical therapist as well.
Osteoarthritis treatments might include:
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Taking anti-inflammatory medications can decrease the swelling and pain in the joint. This short-term approach helps to manage the symptoms so other treatments can be more effective.
- Joint Injections: Corticosteroid injections into the joint help to reduce the pain and symptoms. These injections can provide a few months of relief. But patients should use caution about repeat injections since they can contribute to the additional breakdown of joint cartilage.
- Physical Therapy: A holistic approach is one of the best ways to support joint health. Physical therapy strengthens the muscles around the joint. Improving muscle strength minimizes the impact within the joint when you are moving.
- Surgery: In severe cases of osteoarthritis, surgery might be recommended. Our team always starts with a minimally-invasive treatment approach whenever possible – so surgery is usually the last option when other treatments aren’t working.
Do You Need Treatment for Osteoarthritis?
Some people live with mild or moderate osteoarthritis symptoms for years, with a slow development of the symptoms over time. Other people experience a faster onset of osteoarthritis symptoms and need treatment right away.
If your pain and stiffness are affecting your quality of life, then it is time to talk to a joint specialist. Keep in mind that untreated arthritis can cause permanent damage to the joints, making it difficult to complete daily activities such as climbing stairs, doing the dishes, or walking around the house.
Schedule a Consultation with an Orthopedic Doctor
Do you have an osteoarthritis diagnosis? You’re not alone. Our team of specialists is here to offer the ongoing support that you need to manage this condition and the associated symptoms.
If you are looking for relief from osteoarthritis or any other injury affecting the musculoskeletal system, then it’s time to schedule a consultation with an orthopedic doctor. Contact us at Orthopedic Associates at your convenience.