Osteoarthritis or OA, is a form of arthritis that most commonly effects those of old age. It is a slow-moving "wear-and-tear" disorder of the joints, and it most commonly effects the neck, hands, lower back, knees and hips; although any joint could be affected. Millions of people all over the world suffer from it, and there is no known cure at this time.
There are many possible causes, including everything from heredity to an injury leading to mechanical imbalances. Diet and hormone changes can also have an impact on cartilage health. Unfortunately, the most common cause is time. The cartilage in a joint like the knee can act like a cushion between the bones when we run and jump or go up a flight of stairs. The older we get the more those joint cushions begin to wear thin. With less and less cushion there to protect us, eventually things start to break down.
The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are decreased range of motion, and pain ranging from moderate to extreme, depending on the severity of the case. Beyond those common symptoms, patients can often find their joints to become noisy, making creaking or crackling sounds when movement happens. Extreme swelling can also occur in more advanced cases.
It's important to note that this form of arthritis should not be confused with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis might begin with seemingly similar pains and swelling, but it is an autoimmune disease. In that case, instead of cartilage wearing thin, the tissues that surround the joint become inflamed. Essentially the immune system of the human body is mistakenly attacking its own joints. In the long run this condition can lead to many other problems that OA cannot. It is also more common in women than in men, whereas osteoarthritis does not discriminate by gender.
Though there is no known cure, the good news is there are many different treatment paths for osteoarthritis. For some patients, a mild pain reliever like ibuprofen can do the trick. Something with an acetaminophen can be enough for some patients to regain their functionality and comfort. For others, an NSAID (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) may be necessary. In addition to relieving pain, NSAIDs also bring more mobility to the joint by bringing down the swelling.
In more advanced cases, even stronger pain relievers may become necessary. These drugs may include narcotics such as codeine. There are risks with any and all of these drugs mentioned here, so it's important to consult with a medical professional before beginning any course of medication.
Therapeutic treatments are also helpful for many OA sufferers. A physical therapist will work with a patient to come up with an individualized exercise regimen to make them as functional and comfortable as they can be. Occupational therapists can help a patient to devise better ways to move through there day-to-day lives and not aggravate their conditions. Different therapists operate with different approaches, so it's important for each patient to find the one that works for their individual needs.
In extreme cases a doctor might suggest cortisone shots, lubrication injections, and even surgery. The good news is osteoarthritis patients today have more treatment options available to them than any previous generation.