Osteoarthritis

Also called degenerative joint disease, this is the most common type of arthritis, which occurs most often in older people. This disease affects cartilage, the tissue that cushions and protects the ends of bones in a joint. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage starts to wear away over time. In extreme cases, the cartilage can completely wear away, leaving nothing to protect the bones in a joint, causing bone-on-bone contact. Bones may also bulge, or stick out at the end of a joint, called a bone spur.

Osteoarthritis causes joint pain and can limit a person's normal range of motion (the ability to freely move and bend a joint). When severe, the joint may lose all movement, causing a person to become disabled. Disability most often happens when the disease affects the spine, knees, and hips.

Symptoms

Arthritic symptoms generally include swelling and pain or tenderness in one or more joints for more than two weeks, redness or heat in a joint, limitation of motion of joints, early morning stiffness, and skin changes, including rashes.

Doctors diagnose arthritis with a medical history, physical exam and x-rays. There is no blood test for osteoarthritis.

Causes and risk factors

Osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing out of the cartilage covering the bone ends in a joint. This may be due to excessive strain over prolonged periods of time, or due to other joint diseases, injury or deformity. Primary osteoarthritis is commonly associated with ageing and general degeneration of joints.

Secondary osteoarthritis is generally the consequence of another disease or condition, such as repeated trauma or surgery to the affected joint, or abnormal joint structures from birth.

Management of Osteoarthritis

There are several treatments and lifestyle modifications that can help you ease your pain and symptoms.

  • Medications: Pain-relieving medications such as NSAIDs, COX-2 inhibitors and opioids may be prescribed. Topical medications such as ointments can be applied over the skin where there is pain. If the pain is very severe, corticosteroid injection can be given directly into the affected joint to ease the pain.
  • Other treatments: Your physiotherapist will teach you exercises to keep joints flexible and improve muscle strength. Heat/cold therapy which involves applying heat or cold packs to the joints provides temporary pain relief. Lifestyle modifications can be done to control weight and avoid extra stress on the weight-bearing joints.
  • Surgery: Joint replacement surgery is considered as an option when the pain is so severe that it affects your ability to carry out normal activities.