Osteoarthritis diagnosis and treatment

ARTHRITIS

Osteoarthritis is wear and tear affecting cartilage in the joints, causing pain, weakness and stiffness

What is osteoarthritis?

Over the years, wear and tear affect cartilage in the joints, causing pain, weakness, and stiffness. This is known as osteoarthritis (OA). It can affect any joint but is most common in the knees, hip, and spine. It is a degenerative condition and often starts in people who are over 50 years-old but has been known affect younger age groups too.

Need to know

How does osteoarthritis develop, and what are the symptoms?

Osteoarthritis develops when the shock-absorbing cartilage and related structures in your joints wear away and is experienced more frequently as people get older. This is because a person’s joints wear down naturally over time, after years of use. Obesity and joint injury can exacerbate osteoarthritis. Sometimes conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or pseudogout cause the cartilage to wear away, leading to arthritis. Symptoms of the condition include:

  • Pain — this can become worse when you move your joint, bear weight in certain parts of your body, or at the end of the day.
  • Stiffness — your joints may feel stiff, especially after rest.
  • Swelling — this might present as hard or soft swelling around the affected joint.

Osteoarthritis is diagnosed following a full medical assessment, which includes asking you questions, examining your joints and performing X-Rays. The doctor will assess your joint for tenderness, creaking or grating sounds (crepitus), excess joint fluid, reduced movement, joint instability, and muscle weakness. Upon having an X-ray, a radiologist will look for bony spurs, narrowing spaces between the bones, and bone hardening.

Most cases of osteoarthritis are treated with physiotherapy, pain killers, activity modification, weight management and exercise. Swimming and cycling are good exercises that can help. Steroid injections can sometimes be used to help relieve symptoms.

If these measures fail to adequately control symptoms, and there is persistently poor mobility and quality of life, then joint replacement surgery may be considered for worn knees, hips, ankles, and shoulders. Here, the worn joint is replaced with an artificial joint to restore mobility and relieve pain. In some circumstances, fusion surgery is recommended, but your specialist will discuss the best option for you.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis is often picked up during routine health checks, but you can ask your doctor for a diagnosis if you think you have the condition. The doctor will test your joint for tenderness, creaking or grating sounds (crepitus), bony swelling, excess fluid, reduced movement, joint instability, and muscle weakness. They may also recommend an X-ray, which would show bony spurs or narrowing spaces between bones. MRI scans are also used to show changes in soft tissues such as thinning cartilage and worn tendons and muscles.

How to prevent osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, it is not possible to completely prevent osteoarthritis. However, there are things that you can do to help minimise your risk of developing the condition. You can do this by avoiding injuries and making an effort to live a healthier lifestyle. The following lifestyle changes can also be used to ensure you’re keeping your risks low:

Exercising – Avoid exercises that puts strain or excessive weight on your joints and instead focus on low-impact exercises that include strength training, stretching and aerobic exercise

Posture – Maintain a good posture at all times

Losing excess weight – Carrying excess weight increases the strain on your joints

 

Living with osteoarthritis after diagnosis

Most cases of arthritis are treated with activity modification, changes in diet and exercise. Swimming is a good exercise that can help. Pain killers and steroid injections can help relieve symptoms.

If these measures do not work, keyhole surgery may be recommended to clear debris in the joint and try to restore mobility. Joint replacement surgery is also available and may be recommended for worn knees, hips, ankles, and shoulders. Here, the worn joint is replaced with an artificial joint to restore mobility and relieve pain. In some circumstances, fusion surgery is recommended, but your specialist will discuss the best option for you.

 

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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