Osteoarthritis: Damage To The Joints We Use Most

Think of the knee as a feat of incredible engineering:  It’s an intricate, hinge-like structure that allows us to walk, sit, and bend.

When someone develops osteoarthritis (often referred to as, “OA”) — the cushioned cartilage that protects the bones of the knee and enables them to move smoothly begins to deteriorate over time.  As we lose this cartilage – symptoms like pain, stiffness, inflexibility, and swelling begin and can get worse over time.

As you might expect, the most common sites for osteoarthritis to occur are the joints we use most – including the knees, hips, & shoulders

What are the symptoms of OA?

Have you ever heard a cracking or grinding sound in your knees or hands? How about stiffness, swelling, and the feeling that you can’t move around like you used to? All of these can be symptoms of OA.

For better or worse, OA is generally a consequence of living longer.  As OA progresses, damage to the cartilage can also compromise how the muscles, ligaments, and bones function. In the advanced stages of OA, bones can rub against each other – causing severe, often life-changing symptoms.

Who develops osteoarthritis?

Many people often confuse rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.  This is one of the questions that we are asked most often.  Simply – unlike rheumatoid arthritis, which develops because the immune system is not working correctly – osteoarthritis is caused by many factors, most of which are related to daily life. That said, a leading factor which can make OA worse is obesity: When the knees, shoulders, & hips carry extra weight over a long period of time – the constant increased pressure can damage joints.

In addition to normal aging – athletes and weekend warriors may develop OA earlier than others because of the increased stress and injury that come with these types of activities. Further, someone whose work demands continual heavy lifting may suffer from joint injury due to overuse.

Genetics may also play a role in whether someone develops OA:  For example, if a parent had ‘bad knees’ due to OA, there may be a genetic propensity for that individual to develop them as well.

How is OA diagnosed?

Your ARBDA Rheumatologist is specially trained to evaluate joint problems.  They will take a detailed family/medical history and perform a thorough physical exam. Imaging studies (such as an X-Ray, Ultrasound, or MRI) may be necessary to provide a clearer picture of the extent of joint damage.  Should you have excess fluid in the painful joint(s) – your rheumatologist may extract and analyze it to distinguish OA from other types of arthritis.

What are the best OA treatments?

Luckily there are many treatments available for osteoarthritis.  Partnering with your ARBDA Rheumatologist to decipher what treatment works best for you is the best first step.  Having frequent communication and a willingness to adapt to changes in your lifestyle are integral to ensuring that you can live to your fullest potential.

A great first step in helping to reduce pain/discomfort associated with OA is weight loss (if appropriate).  Your Rheumatologist may discuss how physical therapy, occupational therapy, and/or hydrotherapy (also called, “Aqua Therapy”) could help you by re-training and strengthening different muscle groups.

For knees, specifically, there is an injection therapy (called viscosupplementation) which can replace some of the specific fluid that’s lost over time.  This single injection can provide relief for up to 6 months.

Certain medicines which target inflammation throughout the body can be used in conjunction with other therapies to reduce pain and disability.

Your ARBDA Rheumatologist is an expert guide to determine the best treatments for each unique individual.

Osteoarthritis doctor talking to patient and performing a bone test in a New Jersey office