There are various forms of arthritis. One of those is known as osteoarthritis. You may know the condition by its alternative name, degenerative bone disease.
It’s one of those conditions that is often ignored. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you and if it does you don’t expect it to happen until you’re older. In most of cases, this is the truth. However, there are some around 60 years old who will suffer.
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed or someone you know has been diagnosed, it’s worth learning as much as possible as you can. It’s also worth understanding more about the disease before being diagnosed. This will help you look out for symptoms and understand more about side effects of the condition. Here’s everything you need to know about osteoarthritis.
What Exactly Is Osteoarthritis?
Also known as degenerative arthritis and degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions that will affect your joints. Around 27 million people in the United States alone suffer from this chronic condition, usually experience pain in the hips, knees, smaller joints in the fingers and toes, and in the back and neck.
Healthy joints are surrounded by cartilage, a rubbery and firm material that prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. The cartilage helps to ensure lubrication between the joints, preventing wearing at the bones and avoiding pain. Over time, the cartilage can break down and wear away. You’re left with the bones rubbing against each other whenever you move.
The joints start to become inflamed. Pain is a common symptom and it becomes difficult to move the joints. The chronic condition is something that gets worse as you get older and growths can start to develop on the joints. In some cases, the bones can start to chip, causing them to float around the body.
Eventually, the cartilage will completely wear away. This leads to far more pain.
Most people suffering from osteoarthritis will be 65 years old or more. In fact, around 50% of adults will eventually develop osteoarthritis in the knees at some point in their lives, with 25% developing the condition by the time they’re 85 years old. One in 12 will develop it in their 60s.
This is a disease with no limitations. Anyone can develop it, with those who have previous injuries in the joints, overuse, or weakness is more likely to develop the condition.
Why Do People Suffer from Degenerative Bone Disease?
One of the big questions for many is why osteoarthritis occurs? Is this something you’ve done to cause the problem and is there anything you can do to avoid it? Researchers are still understanding the chronic disease, but there are some factors that they already know.
Genes are to blame in many cases. Those who have family members with certain health problems are more likely to experience the condition. One of those is a condition that affects the collagen production. Collagen is a protein that is part of the cartilage. If your body struggles to produce collagen then it will struggle to have enough cartilage between the joints.
In the more extreme circumstances, those who collagen production problems can experience osteoarthritis as young as 20 years old!
There are other inherited conditions that can lead to degenerative bone disease and cartilage problems. Researchers have linked the FAAH gene to the development of osteoarthritis.
Being overweight can also lead to the condition. You put more pressure on your joints by being overweight, which leads to the cartilage wearing away sooner than it should. Those who are overweight have a higher risk of developing the condition in their hands! Studies show that this is likely due to the production of more inflammatory chemicals due to the excess fat, which leads to problems in the hands.
Overuse is also a common reason for developing the condition. If you repetitively move certain joints, they’re going to suffer more wear and tear than the rest of your body. Therefore, many athletes experience conditions within the joints that they use the most, such as elbow problems in tennis players and shoulder problems in swimmers.
If you’ve suffered an injury to a joint, such as ligament tears, fractures, or surgery, you have a higher chance of developing osteoarthritis. This is because your joints have already sustained some damage. They can be weaker than the rest of your body and than a normal, healthy person.
There are also times that otherwise healthy people develop the condition. Or they may have other conditions that lead to an issue. Those with metabolic disorders and rheumatoid arthritis can experience degenerative bone disease later in life. There may also be environmental reasons for developing the condition.
Osteoarthritis Symptoms to Look Out For
Now you know more about the condition, it’s time to look out for the symptoms. The sooner you get medical help, the sooner you’ll find a way to enjoy life still. After all, this is one of those conditions that can’t be reversed once it’s happened, but you can take steps to avoid it getting too bad to walk.
One of the most common early symptoms of the degenerative bone disease is stiffness and pain in the joints. At first, the symptoms will be experienced in the morning or after resting your joints for a short period of time. This gives the joints time to swell a little, making it harder to move them around.
If you’ve been more active than usual, you may experience extra swelling around the joints. Over time this swelling occurs regardless of the exercise you’ve done.
The symptoms will usually start off small. You may even ignore them for a while, thinking of them as normal signs of aging. If you’ve done excessive exercise you may have even expected some swelling or stiffness the next day, so you write off the symptoms as normal. However, they will eventually get worse and you can find you experience them daily regardless of what you’ve done.
Most of the pain starts in the knees and hips, but the lower back can also be affected. Annoyingly, the pain can be due to overuse or long periods of inactivity.
When the symptoms get worse, you can experience:
- Cracking and clicking sounds while moving your joints
- Stiffness that disappears after moving for a while
- Limited movement until the stiffness wears off
- Mild swelling
- Pain towards the end of the day/after activity
Parts of the body can be affected in different ways. While the symptoms above are all standard, the knees can also get a grating sensation, almost as if the bones are creaking against each other. The fingers can gain bony growths at the edges of the joints. These growths are known as spurs and can be tender and swollen. Tenderness in the feet from the condition is usually at the base of the big toe, which is the one most likely affected.
Over time the pain and stiffness can make it possible for you doing your everyday tasks. You can find simple movements to put food away and move a computer mouse difficult. Some people find themselves unable to drive their car because they can’t use the peddles, grip the steering wheel or change gears. Grasping small items like pencils and pens can also be difficult and those who like needlework can find it hard to grip their tools.
Developing Other Health Conditions Because of Osteoarthritis
Because of the symptoms, you’re more likely not to move around too much. You’ll choose to remain at home, which can lead to a lack of social life. You rely on more people to do everyday things for you and this leads to some loss of self and confidence. This can also lead to some mental health problems.
Many of those suffering from a degenerative bone disease from a younger age can find themselves depressed or anxious. They worry about not being self-sufficient in their older years and hate the fact that they suffer pain and inflammation, so they can’t do the hobbies that they used to do.
However, there are other physical illnesses that can develop due to osteoarthritis. Diabetes and heart disease are very common. Because you can’t move as much, weight gain is more likely. It’s possible that you don’t burn off all the calories you used to, and your blood pressure can see an increase. One thing you’ll need to do is change your diet to avoid weight issues, which can cause problems like heart disease and diabetes.
Those with degenerative arthritis are also more likely to suffer falls and breaks. In fact, you’re 30% more likely to have a fall and 20% more likely to fracture a bone than those without the condition. It’s not just the cartilage that wears away, but the muscular strength and tissue strength. The lack of movement causes muscles to wear away and your balance becomes more impaired.
There are medications that you can take to help manage the condition and for pain relief, but they have been linked to some falling issues. They can also cause some dependency issues to the medications.
Getting a Degenerative Arthritis Diagnosis
If you start experiencing the symptoms, you want to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. This will help to get a diagnosis early, so treatments can be started to help avoid furthering the problem. Your doctor will want to know about your symptoms (including when they began) and any medical problems you have.
Your doctor will assess where the pain and stiffness are and listen to how these symptoms affect your daily activities. They’ll have a look at medications you take and run through family medical history and any activities that you do.
A physical exam is the best way to determine if your condition is osteoarthritis. Your doctor will want to check for any swollen and tender areas, signs of joint damage, and look for any spurs. The neck, back, knees, hips, and hands can be examined.
In most of cases, a blood test won’t be performed. The blood won’t tell your doctor if osteoarthritis is a problem, although may be needed if your doctor suspects another condition instead. Sometimes x-rays or MRI scans will be used to help look for the severity of the condition and look out for any abnormalities in the joints. They’re not always necessary, though.
Treating Osteoarthritis in All
There isn’t a cure for the degenerative bone disease. This is one of those conditions that are chronic, meaning it’s long-term. While there are treatments to help manage the symptoms, nothing will help to repair the damage already to the cartilage and the joints. Anti-inflammatory medications will also likely be prescribed to help manage the swelling within your joints.
Most of the time, pain medications will be given to managing the pain felt throughout the day. However, doctors will prescribe many natural treatments. One of the best things you can do is keep your joints moving. While you don’t want to overuse them, you want to keep them lubricated and avoid the stiffness. After a while, the pain will be lessened. Not only are you getting rid of the stiffness, but you’re also releasing the natural painkiller around the body.
You don’t have to do a lot of excessive exercises to improve your condition. Just regular walking will help you manage the pain and swelling. If you feel up to it, you can take exercise classes with your friends. Yoga is a good form of exercise for all types of arthritis. It is relatively easy on the joints and will help to improve balance and flexibility. You can improve the range of movement, which will help to ease stiffness and inflammation throughout the body.
Swimming can be one of the best forms of exercise for those with osteoarthritis. The water will sustain your weight, making you feel weightless. You get to move the joints without the pressure of your own weight on top. You can swim lengths, do pool aerobics, or even do your own stretches and movements to boost blood flow around the joints.
Before you start any exercise program, you need to make sure you talk to your doctor. Remember you’re more at risk of falling and injury with the condition, which can rule out certain types of exercise.
Another important thing to do is manage your weight. It’s time to reduce the calorie intake and reduce your weight. The excess weight is causing more pressure on the joints, making your condition worse. Just by losing 10% of your starting weight could help you experience less pain daily.
Occupational therapy may be suggested by your doctor. A therapist can help you use your joints better, find heat and cooling treatments to reduce swelling and pain, and even give you a list of exercises to help reduce stiffness in a morning.
In some cases, walking assistants are needed. This could include a cane, a walker, or even a split for your joints. You can also get some shoe orthotics to help with walking and keeping your ankles and knees in line. Other tools like jar openers and wheel grips can be useful to help you get on with your daily life in the home.
In the more serious cases, surgery may be suggested. Your doctor will suggest this if you need a joint replacement, especially when it comes to the knees and hips. Getting new joints can help to get you back to your relatively normal life.
Osteoarthritis may be a permanent condition, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. With the right tools and medications, you can improve your lifestyle and even manage the symptoms you experience. Keep a positive mental attitude and you will find it much easier.