Osteoarthritis : Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis causes the joints to be inflamed. It is a chronic condition that results in painful joints. The disease is the most common type of arthritis, as it affects millions of people across the globe.

Typically, the diseases occur when the protective cartilage cushioning the ends of the bones wears out and breaks down with time. The net effects are that joints rub together, resulting in pain and stiffness, hence the difficulty in movement.

Osteoarthritis Causes
Osteoarthritis Causes

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease – symptoms worsen with time.  Sadly, there is no cure for osteoarthritis, but with proper management, patients can ease the pain, swelling, and improve mobility.

Note that osteoarthritis is common in the elderly, but it can affect adults of any age. Experts also call it degenerative arthritis, degenerative joint disease, or wear-and-tear arthritis. It can affect all joints in your body, but it commonly attacks the knees, hips, hands, and spine (neck and the lower back) joints.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Osteoarthritis affects over 30 million US adults.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop slowly but get worse with time. Commonly experienced symptoms include:

  • Pain in the joints: the pain occurs during or after movements
  • Joint stiffness: the joints become stiff, especially after being inactive for some time or after waking up.
  • Joint tenderness and a feeling of warmness: when you apply light pressure to or around the joint, you might feel some tenderness.
  • Loss of flexibility: osteoarthritis causes a decreased range of motion, i.e., you may not be able to experience a full range of motion.
  • Swelling/synovitis: there is swelling around the affected joints due to soft tissue inflammation
  • Grating sensation: usually, you might feel some sounds in your joints, including the grating sensation, crackling, or popping when you engage the joint.
  • Bone spurs: these are extra bits of bones that form around the affected joints. They usually feel like hard lumps.
  • Loss of muscle mass

When osteoarthritis progresses, it might lead to complete damage and loss of the cartilage.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis results from joint damage, and it occurs over a long time. That is why age is one of the main factors when it comes to this type of arthritis – the older you get, the more tear and wear you have at your joints.

The cartilage at the end of the bones tears will deteriorate gradually. Remember, cartilage is the firm and slippery tissues that enable frictionless motion. When this cartilage is completely broke down, bones will rub against each other.

Other causes include:

  • Dislocated joints
  • Ligament injuries
  • Torn cartilage
  • Genetic factors
  • Overuse of the joint

Risk factors for osteoarthritis

The below factors increases the chances of developing osteoarthritis:

  • Old age
  • Sex: women are prone to osteoarthritis than men.
  • Obesity: more weight poses a higher risk as it adds stress to the joints that bear weight. Additionally, the fats produce proteins that cause inflammation around the joints
  • Joint injuries
  • Repetitive pressure on joints like for sportspeople
  • Genetics; inheritance tendencies
  • Bone deformities such as defective cartage or malformed joints
  • Metabolic conditions like diabetes

Severe osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs in stages – 0 to 4, where Stage 0 stands for healthy joints while stands for severe osteoarthritis, but not everybody with this condition reaches stage 4 four as it stabilizes along the way. At stage 4, there is complete or extensive loss of cartilage at affected joints, and the bone to bone friction results in symptoms like:

  • Increased swelling and inflammation
  • Increased pain
  • Joint instability
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Muscle weaknesses, joint deformities, and bone spurs
Osteoarthritis stages
Osteoarthritis stages

Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

This disease can be had to diagnose until it starts causing pain and severe symptoms. However, it can be diagnosed through observation of symptoms and physical examination.

Keep in mind that there isn’t a definitive test; however, some analysis shows the extent of the damage. Such tests include:

  • X-rays and MRI: reveals bone spurs or narrowing joint space – a sign of cartilage breakdown
  • Joint fluid analysis: the fluid is taken from joint and analyzed to rule out other conditions like gut or infections.
  • Blood tests: important in ruling out other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

Treatment cannot reverse the damage caused by osteoarthritis but can only help relieve symptoms as well as aid in mobility. Usually, lifestyle changes, home remedies, and over the counter medications.

  • Medications: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Capsaicin cream, and Intra-articular cortisone injections
  • Home remedies: exercise, adequate sleep, Physical therapy and heat, and cold therapy
  • Assistive devices: they aim to provide comfort. They are a stick or cane, Special footwear or insoles, Splints, leg braces, and supportive dressings
  • Surgery: this is the last resort when all others have failed. It comes with necessary procedures like Arthroplasty, Arthrodesis, and Osteotomy.