According to Arthritis.org, osteoarthritis is “sometimes called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic condition of the joints, affecting approximately 27 million Americans. OA can affect any joint, but it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers and the bases of the thumb and big toe”.
A joint in normal condition has a rubbery, firm cartilage that covers each of the bone ends. This cartilage allows us to have a smooth surface for joint motion and gliding as is a type of cushion for the bones. In osteoarthritis, this cartilage breaks down, causing swelling, pain and difficulty in joint movement. As the condition worsens, the bones actually may begin to break down and there can be the development of growths that are called ‘spurs’. These are bits of cartilage or bone that can chip off and then float around the body joint. The body has a natural process for addressing inflammation and this can cause a buildup of enzymes and proteins that can cause further joint damage. The last stages of osteoarthritis is where the cartilage has worn away, allowing the bones to run against each other and leading to more pain and joint damage.
Osteoarthritis can occur in all ages but is typical in people that are 65 or older. The most common risk factors include age increase, being overweight, overuse of the joint, an injury to the joint, weakened thigh muscles and a genetic disposition. It is estimated that one in two adults will develop OA knee symptoms in their lives, 1 in 4 will have OA in the hip area by the age of 85 and 1 in 12 people 60+ years will have hand OA.
Since OA affects a variety of joints, there are various symptoms that will occur. The most common initial symptoms include stiffness and pain, especially first thing in the morning, as well as joint swelling after extended activity. There can be limited range of motion that will be reduced after moving, a cracking or clicking sound during the bending of the joint and a mild joint swelling. OA patients report that pain seems to be worse towards the end of the day or post-activity.
OA can affect the hips, knees, fingers, and feet. Each area will have a different type of symptom but will have a commonality of swelling, a sensation of scraping, tenderness and redness. As people turn away from the traditional prescription medications that often cause harsh reactions and other medical problems, they are seeking alternative and more natural treatments for OA. These can include:
Low impact exercise such as swimming, walking and bike riding. Exercise has been noted as one of the main ways to maintain health and strengthen the muscles that support the body.
Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the amount of pressure and stress on the joints, thereby assisting in the elimination of some of the pain and irritation factors.
Ice and Heat therapies are reported by OA sufferers as a way to reduce the pain and inflammation. Heat increases the blood circulation while cold therapy can help with the pain on the upper areas of the skin.
Massage therapy as well as supplementation are two additional ways to assist in the reduction of inflammation and allow the body’s natural methods of healing to occur.
Always confer with a primary care physician prior to making any changes in lifestyle, including the addition of supplements, vitamins or any OTC product.