Workforce Wellness – Bon Secours


Understanding Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is a general term that means inflammation of the joints. There are many types of arthritis but osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type. This article focuses on osteoarthritis which comes with age and typically affects the hands, knees and hips. Other forms of arthritis that are not discussed include gout, rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis.

Osteoarthritis can occur with no identifiable cause or can occur after joint injury. It can also occur related to other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. There are several risk factors to developing osteoarthritis:

  • Age – Advancing age is a strong risk factor
  • Gender – More common in women
  • Obesity – Weight loss may reduce this risk
  • Occupation – Frequent squatting, kneeling, heavy lifting, prolonged standing or walking
  • Sports – Certain sports and injuries

There is a rubbery material called cartilage that covers the area that two bones meet. When the cartilage is present the bones slide over each other normally with no pain, but when osteoarthritis sets in this cartilage breaks down. When the bones rub against each other this causes pain, stiffness and swelling. If these symptoms are present there are measures to take to feel better:

  • Rest – only for a few minutes at a time to keep muscles strong
  • Lose weight – only if weight is an issue
  • Physical therapy and exercise – may hurt at first but will eventually reduce pain
  • Devices – shoe inserts, splints, canes and walkers can help with stability

There are many medicines that can help with symptoms of osteoarthritis. Some of these are found over-the-counter and others require a prescription from a doctor. Evidence shows that supplements, including glucosamine and chondroitin, will not help with symptoms. Some benefit from joint injections, while those with severe osteoarthritis may require surgery. Osteoarthritis is very common and although the symptoms of joint pain, stiffness and swelling are frustrating, there is hope. With a combination of medicine, exercise and possibly a device, most people can still do the activities they enjoy.

By Aarat M. Patel, MD, FAAP, FACP, FACR
Bon Secours Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Richmond
Adult and Pediatric Rheumatology
9600 Patterson Ave., Richmond, VA 23229

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