A condition that often comes to mind when thinking about joint pain is osteoarthritis, also called OA or wear-and-tear arthritis. This common joint disorder affects millions of people worldwide, especially as they age.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that primarily affects the cartilage—the protective tissue that covers the ends of bones inside a joint. Over time, the cartilage can wear down, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced joint mobility.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of OA remains unknown, but several factors contribute to its development, including the breakdown of cartilage, a rubbery material that eases friction in your joints. It can happen in any joint but most often affects your fingers, thumbs, spine, hips, knees, or big toes.
OA is most common in middle-aged and older adults. Using your joints over and over damages the cartilage, leading to pain and swelling. Water builds up in the cartilage, and its proteins break down. It may start to flake or get tiny tears. In severe cases, you can lose all the cartilage between the bones of a joint so that they rub together, making it harder and more painful to use the joint. Cartilage damage can also trigger bone spurs around your joints.
Having OA in one part of your body also increases your risk of developing OA in other parts of your body.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
The symptoms of osteoarthritis differ from one person to another. However, common signs to watch out for include:
- Joint pain: Osteoarthritis often presents as joint pain, which may worsen with activity or after long periods of inactivity.
- Stiffness: Affected joints may feel stiff, especially in the morning or after prolonged rest.
- Reduced range of motion: Joint stiffness and cartilage damage can limit the joint’s ability to move fully.
- Swelling: In some cases, the joints affected by osteoarthritis may appear swollen or feel tender to the touch.
- Grating or cracking sensations: You may experience a grating or cracking sound when moving the affected joint.
How We Manage and Treat Osteoarthritis
Although osteoarthritis has no cure, we recommend treatment options that can help manage its symptoms and improve quality of life.
Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), taken at recommended doses, typically relieve osteoarthritis pain and reduce inflammation. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications or recommend topical creams.
Working with a physical therapist can provide exercises and stretches to strengthen the muscles around the affected joint, improve flexibility, and reduce pain.
Applying heat packs or cold compresses to the affected joint can help reduce pain and inflammation. Weight management, engaging in low-impact exercises, and practicing good posture can help reduce the strain on joints and alleviate symptoms.
Physical activity strengthens the muscles around your joints and may help relieve stiffness. Work toward 20 to 30 minutes of physical movement, at least every other day. Choose gentle, low impact activities, such as walking or swimming. Tai chi and yoga can also improve joint flexibility and help with pain management.
When conservative measures fail to provide relief, surgical interventions, such as joint replacement or arthroscopy may be considered.
Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) share the same symptoms but are very different. OA is a degenerative condition, which means that it gets more severe over time. RA, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder.
People with RA have immune systems that mistake the soft lining around joints for a threat to the body, causing the body to attack that area. As the immune system launches its assault, fluid buildup within the joint occurs. This causes stiffness, pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Osteoarthritis is a common joint condition that causes the degeneration of cartilage. Numerous treatment options are available to manage its symptoms effectively so that individuals with osteoarthritis can lead active and fulfilling lives. To receive an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan for osteoarthritis, schedule an appointment with our Rheumatology team at SMC Physicians. Take the first step towards managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life by seeking medical guidance from a healthcare professional experienced in treating osteoarthritis.
Conditions We Treat
We provide ultrasound-guided arthrocentesis (joint injections) of both steroids and gel injections such as Orthovisc and Synvisc.
We offer a state-of-the art private infusion center at each location, offering the following medications and more:
Our Rheumatology Locations: