Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis. This disease, which affects close to 1 out of every 10 Canadian, occurs equally in women and men and typically strikes those aged 45 and older. It is a painful and sometimes debilitating disease that can affect several joints including the hips, knees, neck, shoulders, back, fingers and big toe. Osteoarthritis is defined as the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage of one or more joints. Cartilage covers and protects the ends of bones acting as shock absorbers and preventing the bones from rubbing against one another. When cartilage begins to degenerate, it thins and can even flake away, no longer acting as a cushion, therefore leading to joint pain.

Causes

Several factors increase the risk of osteoarthritis:
  • Family history;
  • Wear and tear (ex: occupation or sport that requires repetitive movement);
  • Reduced physical activity;
  • Obesity;
  • Wearing high heel shoes (knee-related osteoarthritis).
disease-osteoarthritis-1Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis. This disease, which affects close to 1 out of every 10 Canadian, occurs equally in women and men and typically strikes those aged 45 and older. It is a painful and sometimes debilitating disease that can affect several joints including the hips, knees, neck, shoulders, back, fingers and big toe. Osteoarthritis is defined as the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage of one or more joints. Cartilage covers and protects the ends of bones acting as shock absorbers and preventing the bones from rubbing against one another. When cartilage begins to degenerate, it thins and can even flake away, no longer acting as a cushion, therefore leading to joint pain.

Symptoms

Osteoarthritis limits joint mobility and hinders overall movement. Over time, the worn- down ends of the bones are replaced by less efficient cartilage or even new bone that forms small but painful outgrowths called osteophytes. As a result, joints become deformed and may also become inflamed therefore making it more difficult to move affected joints. This disease may cause pain in the joints, which become sensitive to pressure and stiffen as a result of inactivity. Finally, in the more advanced stages of osteoarthritis, it is possible to hear the bones rubbing against one another when moving the affected joint.

Diagnosis

Osteoarthritis is a disease that requires a medical diagnosis. During the consultation, the physician will require a detailed description of the pain as well as its exact location and will also want to know when the pain is most evident; for example, after being seated in a car for an extended period, during exercise, etc. Then, the physician will have to eliminate other possible causes. He could request blood tests, radiographies and possibly an analysis of the synovial fluid which is the lubricant found around joints.

Treatment

The treatment for osteoarthritis consists primarily in relieving pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol”) is often the first medication chosen to treat osteoarthritis. Anti-inflammatories can also be taken to reduce inflammation. There are also ointments or lotions that can be applied directly on the sore joint for more localized pain relief. Compresses can also be used to alleviate pain: cold compresses are recommended to reduce inflammation while hot compresses are recommended to reduce stiffness Codeine may be added to help relieve pain in more serious cases. Codeine however, can cause drowsiness, gastric disorders and constipation. Elderly persons are more sensitive to its effects. Cortisone injections, which involve administering injections directly into the joint is another alternative to consider when movement is seriously impeded. Although the full effect of the injections take a few days, they last several weeks and even several months. One may receive between 2 and 4 cortisone injections a year. As a last recourse, when the joint becomes unusable or when the pain is intolerable, replacing the damaged joint with an artificial joint by way of a surgical procedure is possible. This type of surgery is known as arthroplasty.

For more information or for support

The Arthritis Society www.arthritis.ca