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How Osteoarthritis Affects Your Joints
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 23% of adults in the U.S. have some form of arthritis. That is approximately 1 in 4 adults living with arthritis. It is also one of the leading causes of work disability, with annual medical costs being $303.5 billion each year.1
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the world and affects around 32.5 million adults in the United States. Originally thought to be a “wear and tear” condition with age, osteoarthritis has been found to affect the bone, cartilage, ligaments, fat, and tissues in the joints.2
Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that acts as a cushion for your bones wears down. It cannot be reversed, but there are ways to help people manage their symptoms.3
Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis begins to develop slowly and worsens over time. It can affect the hands, hips, knees, and spine.
- Pain that becomes worse around the affected joint when that area of the body becomes active.
- Stiffness of joints after inactivity. This usually lasts for around 30 minutes but it can arise if the muscles are inactive.
- Swelling and inflammation around the joints.
- Tenderness around the joint whenever pressure is applied on or by it.
- Changes in joint shape. An example would be when joints in the fingers do not look like they are connected like they once were.
- Cracking sensation. Many people who get osteoarthritis experience a sensation called “crepitus.” This is when a surface that is normally smooth inside of a joint roughens.
- Loss of flexibility. As a joint gets arthritis, it may not be as flexible as it once was.
- Bone spurs that are hard lumps or extra bits of bones around the joints.
If you notice pain in your joints that doesn’t go away, talk with your doctor about your risk for osteoarthritis.
Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis
- Age. The risk for osteoarthritis increases with age, with most people over 60 experiencing it to some degree.
- Genetics. Those with family members who have osteoarthritis are more likely to experience it at some point in their life. Research has found that there are certain genes that may play a role in joint deterioration.
- Sports. People who play sports are more likely to wear and tear their joints. This can lead to torn cartilage, dislocated joints, and ligament injuries, all of which pave the way for osteoarthritis to develop.
- Gender. Women are more likely to experience osteoarthritis than men.
- Joint Overuse. Overusing certain joints can cause them to wear out, putting someone at risk for osteoarthritis. Some examples of joint overuse include kneeling, squatting, and physical labor.
- Obestiy. People who are obese tend to put more pressure on the joints in their knees, hips, and back, which can cause osteoarthritis.
- Preexisting Conditions. People with joint abnormalities and those born with abnormal spines are likely to develop osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, another common form of arthritis, also puts people at risk for also developing osteoarthritis. Hemophilia is a condition where bone tissue decays due to a lack of blood supply, which can eventually lead to osteoarthritis.
Doctors can diagnose a patient with osteoarthritis through a series of tests. A doctor will ask their patient about their pain and conduct a physical examination.
Some of the questions may include:7
- Where does it hurt? How much does it hurt?
- How long have you been experiencing pain?
- Do you feel pain with certain physical activities or exercises?
- Has your pain changed the way you walk or stand?
Doctors can also use radiography to examine their patient’s bone structure to check for osteoarthritis. This is especially helpful in making sure that their patient does not have any other underlying conditions. Some of the items a doctor will check for on a scan include joint destruction and narrow space between the joints.8
Prevention & Treatment
There is no way to fully prevent osteoarthritis because as you age, your joints will naturally wear and tear. However, it is important to know that anyone is at risk for developing osteoarthritis. If you experience pain in your joints over the course of a few days, you might need to see a doctor.
There are some steps you can take to prevent and minimize joint problems in the future. Here are some ideas on how you can protect your body against osteoarthritis as you age.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight is a risk in developing osteoarthritis. Strive to eat a healthy diet and exercise 30-60 minutes a day to maintain your weight.
If you’re unsure if you’re at a healthy weight, you can use a BMI calculator to gauge where you are. While this method isn’t perfect and doesn’t take overall fat vs. muscle into account, it can be a good indicator of healthy body weight. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure if your weight is healthy for your height and body structure.
If you don’t exercise, your muscles will atrophy and you will be more likely to experience joint pain. However, regular exercise can help keep your muscles and joints strong, which can prevent osteoarthritis.
The Arthritis Foundation suggests doing flexibility exercises to stretch the muscles and joints, which can help them maintain their elasticity. They also state that strengthening exercises can be used to improve muscle strength and protect joints that are susceptible to arthritis. Aquatic exercises are great because they are low-impact on the joints and can help people who currently struggle with joint pain.9
Overusing joints can cause your risk of osteoarthritis to increase. It’s important to rest your joints for 12-24 hours if they feel swollen or ache, especially between periods of physical activity.10
If you don’t rest your joints and you currently have osteoarthritis, it can cause a flare-up that makes the swelling and pain worse. Some ways you can avoid flare-ups include taking breaks or performing a task in smaller chunks.11 One example of this is if you have osteoarthritis in your hands, take breaks from typing every once in a while so your joints can recover.
There are currently no medications on the market that can fully prevent or reverse osteoarthritis. However, medications can be prescribed to help people cope with the pain that comes along with osteoarthritis.
Some doctors will prescribe pain-relieving medications such as acetaminophen. Others will provide topical treatments that can be used to relieve the pain. While there are many medications available over-the-counter, it’s important to discuss medication with your doctor if you have osteoarthritis.12
Do You Think You Might Have Osteoarthritis?
If you believe that you or a loved one might have osteoarthritis, contact a doctor and schedule an appointment. The sooner osteoarthritis is diagnosed, the sooner you or your loved one can receive treatment.
Here at Saber Healthcare, we offer personal care that is tailored to meet our residents’ needs. Our services are designed to help our residents meet their goals and promote independence. To learn more about the personal care that we provide, click here.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Arthritis.” U.S. Department of Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last reviewed 2 November 2020. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/arthritis.htm
- “Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis Foundation. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/osteoarthritis
- “Osteoarthritis.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Accessed 16 June 2021. 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351925
- Doherty, Michael. David Hunter and Monica Ramirez, eds. “Patient education: Osteoarthritis symptoms and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics).” Up To Date. Last Updated 12 May 2021. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/osteoarthritis-symptoms-and-diagnosis-beyond-the-basics
- Zelman, David. “The Basics of Osteoarthritis.” WebMD. 2 June 2020. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/osteoarthritis-basics
- Roth, Erica. Morrison, William, ed. “7 Common Causes of Osteoarthritis.” Red Ventures, Healthline Media. Last Updated 4 May 2020. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.healthline.com/health/common-causes-osteoarthritis
- Eustice, Carol. Ozeri, David, ed. “How Osteoarthritis Is Diagnosed.” Dotdash, VeryWellHealth. 21 June 2021. 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.verywellhealth.com/diagnosis-of-osteoarthritis-2552128
- Sinusas, Keith. “Osteoarthritis: Diagnosis and Treatment.” American Academy of Family Physicians, American Family Physician. 1 Jan 2012. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0101/p49.html
- “Benefits of Exercise for Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis Foundation. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/physical-activity/getting-started/benefits-of-exercise-for-osteoarthritis
- Morrison, William. “Osteoarthritis Prevention.” Healthline Media. 15 December 2017. 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis-prevention#outlook
- Cruz, Brandon. “Osteoarthritis – Sleep, Rest and Recovery.” Live Action Health Group Inc, Live Active Sports Medicine and Health Performance. 2 August 2017. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://www.liveactivesportmed.com/2017/08/osteoarthritis-sleep-rest-recovery/
- “Osteoarthritis.” Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed 26 November 2019. Accessed 30 August 2021. Link: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5599-osteoarthritis