What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis Treatment Monmouth County NJ
Osteoarthritis Treatment Monmouth County NJ

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic orthopedic disease that involves pain and inflammation of the joints. As the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative, long-term condition that is characterized primarily by the destruction of cartilage and narrowing of the joint space.

Cartilage plays an important role in the body, serving as the flexible connective tissue that lines your joints. It both absorbs shock and helps facilitate movement; losing it can result in pain and a reduction in mobility.

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, knees, spine, neck and hips, but can occur in any of the joints in the body, such as the base of the fingers, thumbs and toes. It can also lead to bone overgrowth and spur formation which can impede function and mobility. When OA progresses, the final stages of the disease are signified by the complete erosion of cartilage, causing a painful condition where the affected bones rub together at the joint.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 32.5 million adults who have been medically diagnosed with OA. Osteoarthritis symptoms become increasingly common in people as they age, but can also occur in young people as a result of injury or overuse.

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis symptoms tend to develop slowly and increase with age. Common OA symptoms include:

  • Pain that becomes more pronounced with ongoing movement
  • Stiffness that occurs after periods of inactivity, such as upon awakening
  • Swelling and inflammation of the soft tissue surrounding the joint
  • Limited flexibility in the affected joint
  • Bone spurs that appear as hard lumps around the affected joint
  • Fatigue

Osteoarthritis can also have psychological impacts due to the limitations to mobility which can lead to social isolation.

What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis?

Although many people develop osteoarthritis with age, there are a number of factors that are associated with the increased chance of developing OA, particularly at a young age. They include:

  • Heredity. Although the exact inheritance patterns are unknown, the predisposition for osteoarthritis can be passed down in families.
  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop OA with age.
  • Trauma. Accidents and overexertion can lead to bone and joint injury, which makes individuals more susceptible to OA.
  • Obesity. Carrying extra weight increases the pressure on the bones and joints, which can make them more vulnerable to injury and disease.
  • Poor physical fitness. Lack of exercise and weight-bearing exercises can cause bones and joints to become weaker from inactivity.
  • Overuse. Individuals who overuse their joints, such as athletes, members of the military and those who have physically demanding careers put added pressure on their bones and joints, which contribute to wear and tear.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

The first signs of osteoarthritis may include stiffness or swelling in the hips, knees, fingers, elbows, wrists, feet or spine. As the disease progresses, the cartilage in the affected joints continues to wear down. This condition is often associated with pain and limitations in flexibility and range of motion.

Combined with a physical examination, osteoarthritis may be diagnosed through the following imaging technologies and tests:

  • X-ray. While cartilage cannot be seen on x-ray images, it allows your doctor to observe any narrowing between your bones and joints, as well as the degree of joint damage that has occurred. It may also rule out other forms of arthritis.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Through magnetic waves, this technology can show soft tissue inflammation, swelling and signs of cartilage degradation.

While blood tests cannot diagnose osteoarthritis, they may be performed to rule out different types of inflammatory arthritis.