Arthritis refers to inflammation of one or more joints. There are many different conditions under the term arthritis, we will focus on Osteoarthritis (OA). OA affects millions of people worldwide. It leads to the degeneration of the cartilage that covers the surface of a joint and mainly is found in the knees, hips and spine.
Cartilage is an important component of joints as it protects your joints and bones. Cartilage is a strong, rubbery tissue that provides weight distribution and shock absorption. As OA progresses the joint may lose enough cartilage and the bones will rub on each other.
Damage from osteoarthritis leads to:
Pain - Your joints may become tender or painful with movement or loading.
Stiffness - This may be most noticeable in the morning or after periods of inactivity, loss of joint range of motion may also occur.
Swelling - As soft tissue surrounding the joint may become inflamed leading to swelling.
Grating - This is a sensation felt as the joint moves through its range of motion, it may feel rough or creaky. An audible sound may be heard (popping or cracking).
OA is diagnosed through imaging of the affected joint. Blood tests or fluid analysis may be used to rule out other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or infections.
Although OA cannot be reversed, there are a variety of treatment options based on how much the OA has progressed.
Exercise - Gentle exercises and stretches can help strengthen the muscles around the affected joints and maintain flexibility.
Bracing - Custom or off-the-shelf products are available to manage OA. In the knee OA occurs when the cartilage between the femur and tibia breakdown. It typically affects either the medial or lateral compartment. An unloader brace applies pressure through the joint to off-load the affected compartment.
Medication - Your doctor may prescribe NSAIDs, injections or other medications to help you manage your symptoms.
Surgery - Joint replacements are a common treatment option as OA progresses. During a joint replacement surgery, the damaged surfaces of the joint are replaced with plastic or metal parts.