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Osteoarthritis

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease characterized by the breakdown of cartilage, the tissue that covers the ends of bones in the joints. It is the most common form of arthritis and typically affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine, although it can occur in any joint in the body.

Risk factors

  • Age: The risk of osteoarthritis increases with age, with the majority of cases occurring in individuals over the age of 65.

  • Gender: Osteoarthritis is more common in women than in men, particularly after menopause.

  • Obesity

  • Joint injuries: Previous joint injuries or trauma, such as fractures, ligament tears, or dislocations, may increase the risk of osteoarthritis in affected joints.

  • Genetics: Family history of osteoarthritis or certain genetic factors may predispose individuals to develop the condition.

Symptoms

  • Joint pain or stiffness, particularly after periods of inactivity or significant activity

  • Swelling or tenderness in the affected joints

  • Decreased range of motion or flexibility in the joints

  • Grinding or crunching sensation (crepitus) when moving the joints

  • Visual joint changes

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI to assess joint changes and rule out other possible causes of joint pain or stiffness.

Treatment options

Treatment for osteoarthritis aims to manage pain, improve joint function, and alter the trajectory of the disease. Treatment options may include:

  • Lifestyle modifications: Weight loss, regular exercise, and joint protection techniques can help reduce pain and improve function in individuals with osteoarthritis.

  • Medications: Over-the-counter or prescription medications, which your doctor may speak more to you about.

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help improve joint flexibility, strength, and function through exercises, and other modalities.

  • Surgical interventions: In severe cases of osteoarthritis that do not respond to conservative treatments, surgical interventions such as joint replacement surgery (arthroplasty) may be considered to replace damaged joint surfaces with artificial implants.

Can exercise help?

Exercise and physical activity can help osteoarthritis in several ways:

  1. Strengthens muscles: Strengthening exercises help support and protect the joints affected by osteoarthritis, reducing pain and improving function.

  2. Improves joint health: which can therefore increase joint range of motion. 

  3. Weight management: Exercise can aid in weight loss or weight management, which can have a positive effect on weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips.

  4. Increases endorphins: Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers, helping to alleviate discomfort associated with osteoarthritis.

  5. Improves overall health: Regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, mood, and overall well-being, which indirectly contributes to better management of osteoarthritis symptoms.

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