Achy Breaky Joints: Osteoarthritis

Achy Breaky Joints: Osteoarthritis

By Opeyemi Ibrahim, PharmD Candidate 2021,
University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy

November 17, 2020

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 32.5 million US adults.1 It is a long-lasting condition that happens when the tissues in the joint (where two bones come together) break down. Normally, the ends of the two bones are covered with a protective tissue called cartilage, but with OA the cartilage breaks down and the two bones rub against each other. This is why it is also called “wear and tear” arthritis. Over time the bones change, which can lead to pain, stiffness and swelling. Sometimes, this can limit a patient’s ability to perform their day to day activities.1

Who is at risk for OA?

Osteoarthritis affects people differently and although it can occur at any age, it mostly affects older adults. It can develop in any joint but most frequently appears in the hands, hips, knees, lower back and neck.2

  • Age: Development of OA increases with age (especially after 50 years old).
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop OA than men, but the reason why is not clear.3
  • Obesity: Extra weight increases stress to the joints and raises the risk of OA. This mostly affects the joints of the lower body (hips and knees).
  • Joint Injury: Having an injury (such as an accident or repeated stress to the joint) can cause damage and increase risk.
  • Genetics: People with family members who have OA are at a greater risk.1

Signs and symptoms of OA

Symptoms of osteoarthritis develop gradually and worsen over time.3

  • Painful joints
  • Stiffness (usually upon waking in the morning or after resting)
  • Loss of flexibility (loss of full range of motion but may increase with physical activity)
  • Inflammation around a joint
  • Cracking when a joint bends2

How is OA diagnosed?

If you have any symptoms listed above, contact your provider. They will review your symptoms, perform lab tests (joint fluid analysis), do a physical examination and imaging tests (X-ray/MRI) to help diagnose if you have OA.1

How is OA treated?

While there is no cure for OA, there are a variety of therapies that can relieve symptoms that people may have.1

Physical Activity: It is encouraged to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week. Movement is very important in the treatment of pain and stiffness. Physical activity should include strengthening exercises that help build muscles around those painful joints to help reduce the stress on them. Range of motion exercises, stretching, aerobic exercise and balance exercise should also be included.2

Weight loss: If overweight, weight loss can slow down joint damage. Research shows that every pound of weight loss removes four pounds of pressure on lower body joints.2

Medicines: There are pain and anti-inflammatory medications (available in pill form, syrup, patch, cream and injectable) that can be used to manage symptoms.2

Assistive devices: Crutches and canes can be used if movement becomes difficult.2

Surgery: This is a last resort option. Your doctor may recommend joint replacement surgery to help relieve pain and improve mobility if all other treatment options fail.2

Key Takeaways

If you think you have OA, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you can receive a diagnosis and get treatment, the quicker you can improve the quality of your life.

References:

  1. “Osteoarthritis (OA).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 July 2020, cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/osteoarthritis.htm.
  2. “Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis Foundation, arthritis.org/diseases/osteoarthritis.
  3. Osteoarthritis. 22 Feb. 2020, mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351925.
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