Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is one of the most common causes of pain. This condition is caused by the deterioration of the cartilage at the ends of your bones. As this hard, yet slippery, material wears away, the bone edges can be exposed and can rub against each other, causing swelling, fluid build up, loss of motion and pain. Osteoarthritis can affect all joints in the body, most commonly the hips, knees, shoulders, fingers and spine. Often described as the result of “wear and tear,” this painful grinding sensation may stop people from doing the activities they enjoy.
Your doctor will first listen to the story of how the pain affects you. Following this, you will be examined. X-rays are also a main part of the diagnostic process. Your doctor may also order other tests, such as an MRI or blood tests.
Many treatments exist for arthritis. Doctors most often start with non-operative treatment, including oral or topical medications, activity modification, assistive devices that include a brace or cane, and physical therapy (exercises to strengthen muscles, keep the joint limber and keep your whole body in shape). Often, with a combination of settling the inflammation with medication and exercise to strengthen the muscles around the joint, the pain from mild to moderate arthritis can be controlled. Eventually your doctor may offer an injection, either of a steroid containing mixture (a “cortisone shot”), or a series of synthetic joint fluid supplementation into the joint.
Ultimately, there is no way to build up diseased cartilage once it is diseased. As pain progresses, surgery might be an option. Arthroscopy (minimally invasive surgery with a camera) is sometimes used in arthritis to “clean up” an inflamed joint. Eventually, joint replacement will be offered as a solution. In this procedure, the diseased cartilage is removed, and both sides of the joint are capped with metal. Patients often feel relief within weeks, and are back to their previous level of activity in a month or two.
What you can do:
- Stay active: walking and low impact exercise keeps joint mobility, blood pumping and good general condition. Start with a slow warm up and rest frequently
- Eat well: This can help reduce your weight (which will decrease stress on your joints) and help prevent other health problems
- Stop smoking
- Talk to your doctor about all aspects of treatment