What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is well known to be a 'wear and tear' arthritis' It increases in frequency with age, and in relationship to heavy duty activities that the body has been engaged in. However, sometimes people who have not engaged in severe physical activity get significant osteoarthritis for reasons that are not entirely clear to us medically.
Who gets Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis affects adults and increases in frequency with age. The older you are, the more likely you are to get or to have osteoarthritis.
80% of people over the age of 55 have osteoarthritis.
It affects women twice as commonly as men.
People who are overweight are far more likely to have osteoarthritis.
Sports such as cycling, soccer, football, cricket, boxing, wrestling, ballet dancing and prior injuries predispose people to getting osteoarthritis in the affected joints.
Interestingly osteoarthritis causes a huge burden on us personally and society in general.
Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of cost out of all arthritis: it cost the economy $2.03 BILLION dollars in 2007. That is a significant cost to the economy!
How does Osteoarthritis affect people?
Osteoarthritis can affect different joints of the body, and each person can have a unique pattern of osteoarthritis. Some people will have it only in their hands, and other people can have it in many joints in the body.
Often joints which have been injured through work or sporting activities or other injuries are most prone to developing osteoarthritis.
Some people can have changes of osteoarthritis on x-rays, but not symptoms at all, other people can have only mild changes of damage on x-rays and have a lot of pain. It is not clear what causes the pain in osteoarthritis.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis depend on which joint is involved.
Often it cause pain worse on activity and better with rest. Usually there is not a lot of swelling in these joints.
Osteoarthritis is different to rheumatoid arthritis in that there does not tend to be the accumulation of fluid in the joints. More often there is hardening of the joints and restriction in movement due to overgrowth of bone around the joints.
Pain is the biggest feature of osteoarthritis and the fact that it can significantly impact on a persons quality of life due to both pain and its impact on limiting a person's ability to do their daily activities, including work.
How do we treat Osteoarthritis?
The treatment of osteoarthritis depends on which part of the body is involved and how bad the symptoms are. Each case needs to be assessed individually.
For example back pain is quite a different condition to manage to knee pain.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. There is investigation into the possible benefits of stem cell treatments but at this stage there is no evidence that they are a cure for osteoarthritis.
Management is about controlling pain.
Management can include weight loss, adjusting diet, removing factors that make pain worse, physiotherapy, guided exercise programs, cortisone injections if required, and analgesia.
It is important to work with your Rheumatologist to tailor the treatment program that is right for you and your arthritis.