Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that currently affects one in four people over 45 years of age. Because the disease is so common, many people have heard about it. However, there are many misunderstandings about the condition and how it is diagnosed and treated. Therefore, this is a compiled list of the 10 most important things to know about osteoarthritis.
1. What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that primarily attacks the articular cartilage. Cartilage is the tissue that covers the surface of the bones in all of our joints. It makes it possible for the bones to slide against each other with less resistance. In addition, cartilage distributes the load directed against the joint evenly. When the cartilage breaks down, it becomes much more difficult to use the joint. Stiffness and joint pain are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis. Swelling and cracking sounds from the joint can also appear. The most common symptom is to experience pain when the affected joint is strained.
Read more about the symptoms.
2. The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis
Since cartilage appears in all of the joints in the body, osteoarthritis can affect any joint. However, certain joints are affected more often than others. For example, most people are familiar with osteoarthritis in the hips and knees, which are also the joints that are most often affected by the disease. This can be due to the fact that these joints carry a big portion of our body weight. The physical structure of the joints can also play a role. Osteoarthritis in the fingers, toes, back and neck is also relatively common.
3. Exercise is the best medicine
Most people who are affected by osteoarthritis never need surgery. Instead, exercise should be seen as the basic form of treatment. Customized exercises strengthen the muscles around the affected joint and can remove the strain on it. At the same time, the cartilage is stimulated to repair itself. In the cases where it is too painful to exercise, pain-relieving medications or cortisone injections can be useful.
4. The connection between obesity and osteoarthritis
People who are overweight run a greater risk of being affected by the disease. However, we are not talking about being overweight with respect to a person’s overall BMI. It rather has to do with the ratio of body fat and muscle mass. Stronger muscles are able to carry more body weight. For this reason, it is more important for a person with osteoarthritis to be strong than to be thin. That said, losing weight can still be positive for a person who is overweight, since this reduces strain on the joints.
5. Osteoarthritis does not just affect the elderly
Many young people become confused when they are affected by the disease because they think that only elderly people develop osteoarthritis. This is not the case – osteoarthritis can affect young and old alike. Age is not a risk factor in itself for developing the joint disease. However, the risk of being affected by the disease increases with age, as the risk factors that can affect joints negatively do so over a longer period of time. The more risk factors you’re exposed to, the earlier the disease can develop.
Read more about risk factors.
6. Osteoarthritis pain is not dangerous
The pain that accompanies the disease is not dangerous. That means you should not be afraid of exercising even if it’s painful. Sitting still only makes the disease worse. In addition, the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, for example, also increases. So, it’s important to try to continue exercising to the extent you can, even if it is painful. That said, you should respect the pain and not train too hard. It can be a good idea to get the help of a Physical Therapist when getting started.
7. Training + exercise is a good alternative for treatment
Osteoarthritis treatment should combine education about the disease and customized exercises. The education increases understanding of the disease as well as how lifestyle habits can affect the symptoms. Training in the form of physical therapy could either be performed in groups or individually with a Physical Therapist. Today, a person who is suffering from hip or knee osteoarthritis can also get help online via Joint Academy – an app that can be downloaded to your phone or tablet.
8. Exercising for osteoarthritis does not need to involve sweating
Many people associate exercising with working up a sweat in the gym. But it does not need to be that difficult for a person who wants to reduce their osteoarthritis symptoms. A few simple exercises that take just a few minutes are sufficient to improve symptoms. You also do not need any special equipment or clothes to strengthen the affected joint. This makes it easy to treat your disease at home or even at work.
9. Start treatment of osteoarthritis early
It is common for us to wait, grit our teeth and live with our stiff and painful joints for a while before seeking help. Maybe we think that it is just a natural part of aging. Maybe things aren’t painful enough that it feels worthwhile to seek treatment. Maybe we do not feel that there is any treatment. Regardless of the reason, it is important to contact a medical professional for joint pain. Early diagnosis and treatment often produces better results.
10. Prosthetic surgery is the last resort
If the basic treatment, in the form of exercise, education and weight control, do not provide sufficient results, surgery can be a last resort. In that case, it is important to know that exercise is still required. The patient should exercise both before and after the surgery in order to reduce risks, shorten the rehabilitation time, and to improve the results.
If you suspect that you have osteoarthritis, you can contact a Physical Therapist as a first step. Here you can get both diagnosis, help, and tips.