Five Effective Ways to Prevent Joint Pain Caused by Osteoarthritis: Part 1 of 3
Special Feature “ Health & Exercise Forum” with Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine the 3rd Monday of every month!
Guest Columnist: Antonio Adiletta, MD3
Antonio Adiletta, MD3 is a third year medical student at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine from Lancaster, PA. During his first two years, he served as President of his class and helped create a General Surgery Interest Group. He is currently interested in Orthopedic Surgery.
You may not realize, but osteoarthritis (OA) is more common than you think, affecting people like President George. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, who got hip replacements at age 76 and 72, respectively. Moreover, the Piano Man, Billy Joel had double hip replacements at age 61 and joked afterward saying, “I got a double hip replacement, and now I’m twice as hip as I used to be.”
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease and wear and tear arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis affecting approximately 27 million Americans. Osteo refers to bone, while arth comes from the Greek word arthron, which means articulation, or joint. Finally, itis, a commonly used medical term, refers to inflammation. OA is caused by damage to the cartilage, the rubber-like padding that protects the ends of bones at the joints. Normally functioning cartilage allows bones to glide over each other and also serves to absorb impact from physical activity. In OA the surface layer of the cartilage becomes damaged, exposing the bones to one another. Once the cartilage is gone there is nothing separating bone from bone. Thus, bones, with nothing separating them, start to rub against each other and causes pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the affected joint.
There are many kinds of arthritis, how do you know if you have OA? Pain is the first thing people notice in their affected joint. The joint pain tends to get worse with activity or weight-bearing and will go away with rest. The pain experienced is commonly described as sharp, intermittent, and unpredictable. As the disease progresses, the pain becomes more constant and aching. Late in the course of the disease, the pain is brought on by minimal activity and may even occur at rest.
Another common type of arthritis is called Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This form of arthritis tends to affect people at a younger age compared to OA. In RA the person’s immune system attacks the joints, causing pain, inflammation, joint damage, and eventually malformation. This is not the case in OA where wear and tear or damage is the cause of pain. Furthermore, persons affected by RA complain of being tired, feeling sick, and having a fever. Another major difference between OA and RA is that joints affected by RA are symmetrical; this means that if one knee is affected, the other knee is too. In OA the joint affected is commonly only on one side of the person’s body; such as the right knee or left hip. The final major difference is that people who have RA say that their joint pain will actually improve with physical activity; where people with OA say that the pain gets worse.
There are a few common joints that are affected by OA. These joints include the knee, hip, lower back, neck, and the ends of the finger. For people with OA, these joints become painful and stiff. The joint that is causing pain may get worse with increased activity or may become stiff when it is in one position for a long period of time. Here are some common places that people feel pain from osteoarthritis.
Knees: The knees are a very common joint affected by OA. You may experience stiffness, swelling, and pain that make it difficult to walk, climb, or get in or out of a chair. People with knee osteoarthritis say that the pain can either be localized or diffuse. They report having difficulty climbing upstairs or walking short distances.
Hips: The hips are also a common joint affected by OA. Symptoms of this joint include pain and stiffness, with pain sometimes being experienced in the groin, inner thigh, or buttocks. The pain and symptoms of hip OA may make it difficult to dress, put on shoes, or do other daily activities.
Hands: Osteoarthritis of the hands has been found to be hereditary. That means, for example, if your mother or grandmother had OA in their hand then you are at a greater risk of developing it. People say that their fingers become painful and stiff and that gripping objects becomes difficult. Bony growths in the fingers make the knuckles bigger and swollen and can make it difficult to put a ring on or off.
Spine: OA of the spine tends to present itself as stiffness in the neck or the lower back. Sometimes, arthritis can cause compression of the nerves exiting the spinal cord and can cause weakness, tingling, or numbness of the arms or legs.
Medical Contributor: John Doherty, MD, Geisinger Orthopedics, Scranton, PA
NEXT WEEK: Part 2 of 3: Ways to Prevent and Treat Osteoarthritis
Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every Monday. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.