Frequently asked questions about osteoarthritis

Last modified: December 12, 2019

Osteoarthritis is a disease that affects one in four people over the age of 45 in the US. This is why osteoarthritis is a term that most of us recognize, but few know what the disease actually entails. Most of us are aware that it’s a disease that affects the joints, but few of us can describe things like how it is diagnosed and treated.

What is osteoarthritis?

In simple terms, it is a disease that involves the cartilage slowly breaking down. The disease very often appears in the form of stiff and painful joints and is caused, in most cases, by overexerting the joints. This overexertion can occur in many different ways but, in many cases, heavy, monotonous work is involved. There are other factors, such as lack of activity, previous joint damage, and heredity that affect the likelihood of the disease developing.

At a more detailed level, it involves an imbalance in the cartilage’s basic components. The processes breaking down the cartilage progress more quickly than those building it up. As a result, the cartilage tissue gradually breaks down. Since the cartilage enables the skeletal structures in the joint to glide towards each other without any resistance, this will make it more difficult to use the joint.

Joint pain and stiffness are still regarded as part and parcel of getting old. Many believe that it is a sign that the joints are worn out and need to rest. However, this isn’t the case. In fact, physical activity is the best form of treatment for this disease.

How to diagnose osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis causes stiffness, pain, and problems with movement in the affected joints. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact their health center to get a diagnosis. There are joint diseases with similar symptoms, which is why it is important to get a diagnosis before starting any treatment.

A family doctor or physiotherapist at the health center can make a diagnosis. This is done by assessing the history of the disease, the pain picture, and joint function. An X-ray is generally not needed to make the diagnosis. On the other hand, X-ray images can be used to determine how far the disease has progressed.

If the person making the assessment is not sure about the diagnosis, the patient can be referred on to an orthopedic specialist. An orthopedic specialist is a doctor who has specialized in diseases and complaints that affect the skeleton, muscles, and joints. A large part of orthopedics involves treatment via surgery. This means that an orthopedic specialist may also assess the need for a prosthetic implant operation.

Are there any medicines available to treat osteoarthritis?

At present, there is nothing available to cure the disease. The medication used takes the form rather of pain relievers to ease the symptoms. The medicines that are recommended belong to the paracetamol group (Alvedon, Panodil) or NSAIDs (Voltaren, Ipren, Diclofenac). They are often just as effective as stronger prescription-based painkillers, but without posing the same risk of becoming habit-forming.

There are also many herbal medicinal products sold to treat osteoarthritis. There is no scientific basis to support that this type of product should work. On the other hand, they can provide a placebo effect, thereby reducing the pain sensation. However, it has emerged from studies that the best form of treatment for osteoarthritis is personalized, regular exercise.

How the treatment for osteoarthritis works

Specially designed exercises that are devised along with a physiotherapist can strengthen both the cartilage and muscles. The muscles can then help ease the strain on the joints, thereby easing the symptoms. Exercise should also be combined with weight control (if the person affected is overweight) and education about osteoarthritis. Information about the disease and how it can be managed makes it easier for those affected to resume a normal life.

Anyone given an osteoarthritis diagnosis is often referred to an osteoarthritis class. The disease is treated here with information, lifestyle changes, and physical exercise. Every individual is given a personal exercise program, even if the exercise is carried out in a group. Anyone who doesn’t have the option to attend an actual osteoarthritis class can choose an online option. Joint Academy is an app that can be downloaded to a cell phone for free. It allows you to talk to both a physiotherapist and orthopedic specialist and be given an exercise program with movements adapted for you.

Is getting a prosthetic implant inevitable?

Most people affected by osteoarthritis never need to have an operation for their problems. Exercise, diet, and education are more than sufficient. Combined with pain relievers, if required, most people can resume a normal life without needing a prosthetic implant. Surgery is considered a last resort in cases where the basic treatment has not delivered sufficiently good results. The assessment as to whether this is necessary is made by an orthopedic surgeon along with the patient.

Continue reading: 5 myths about osteoarthritis.