Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affects adults from middle age and beyond. As many as 27 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, most of them 45 years and older. Described as the “wear and tear” of the joints, osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage between the bones of the joints and tendons and ligaments around the joints.
Knees are most prone to osteoarthritis, followed by the hips; however, arthritis also can affect the hands, lower back and neck.
“A person’s lifetime risk of developing osteoarthritis is fairly high in men and women,” said John McClellan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Specialty Physicians of Illinois, LLC, who chooses to practice at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields. “Getting older, unfortunately, is a risk factor, but you may be more prone to developing osteoarthritis if you’re overweight, have had a previous injury or history of overuse to a joint, or you have a joint deformity, such as bowlegs. Family history also plays a role.”
While osteoarthritis isn’t curable, there are many steps patients can take to slow down the progression of the disease.
“Activity is one of the great components of treatment, especially for hips and knees – joints are meant to move,” said Lindsay Johnson, PA-C, a physician assistant with Franciscan Physician Network in Carmel, Indiana.
Finding the best exercises when you have osteoporosis may require exploring what movements are comfortable for your joints.
Walking is an easy and accessible option, but many adults with osteoarthritis find swimming or water exercise classes easier on their joints, Johnson added.
Cycling, with the bike seat raised for better leg extension, also can be easy on joints. An elliptical machine also gets joints moving with less strain than traditional treadmill.
Maintaining a healthy weight also makes a big difference in slowing the progression of osteoarthritis. “It’s not uncommon for patients who, as they prepare for joint replacement surgery, find that losing as little as 20 pounds reduces their symptoms of pain and swelling, enough so that they feel comfortable delaying surgery for a few more years,” said Dr. McClellan.
“I always stress the importance of leading an active lifestyle, exercise, eating right and sleeping well,” said Ahmad Salah, DO, a rheumatologist with Franciscan Physician Network in Munster, Indiana.
Dr. Salah suggests making small changes at first, setting realistic goals and incorporating healthy habits one at a time instead of trying to accomplish too many at once. Dr. Salah also encourages patients to stop smoking, for smoking does affect the joints.
When patients continue to experience pain that keeps them from being active, doctors may suggest over-the-counter pain relievers to help reduce inflammation around the joints and improve flexibility. Injections of steroids or other medications also can help with painful joints. Some patients find that a knee brace eases the pressure on knees and provides support and stability.
With time, however, the remaining cartilage in the joints may wear away, creating a “bone-on-bone” situation in the joint’s operation. Bones may become deformed or develop bone spurs. Surgery or joint replacement maybe necessary at this point.
“The X-rays will tell part of the story,” said Dr. Salah. “However, we look at each patient individually to see how they’re able to manage their disease. Joint replacement is an excellent option, and it’s life-changing for many of our patients who have lived with limited mobility and pain. But it’s a final step intreating osteoarthritis, and that’s why it’s important for patients to actively seek treatment for the disease as early as possible.”