By Joseph Terry, PT, DPhty
In the world of orthopedics, osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the main conditions for which patients seek out our care. Arthritis, in its various forms, is prevalent in roughly 23% of our society and nearly 50% in those over the age of 65 (CDC). Many cases eventually require surgical intervention due to the severity of the condition and/or impact on the individual’s overall function; however, this is not always the case. There are also many cases in which conservative approaches may prove to be effective in restoring a patient’s function.
Before we discuss ways to care for and manage OA, let’s first look at what it is and what puts you at risk for developing it.
• What is OA?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints that is characterized by loss of cartilage and the development of bony growths (spurs) as the body attempts to self-repair. These changes lead to pain, crepitus (grinding), decreased motion, swelling, and can eventually cause deformity in severe cases. All joints are susceptible to developing OA, but it is most commonly seen in the knees, hips, and shoulders.
• Risk Factors.
The number one risk factor in developing OA is age and the associated “wear and tear” our bodies go through over time. It is also more common in women and those who are overweight/obese. Other contributing factors are previous joint injury, working in manually intensive jobs, having a family history of OA, and previously participating in repetitive impact sports.
• Common Symptoms.
Commonly, those with OA complain of joint pain that increases with activity/throughout the day, frequent joint swelling and tenderness, and/or crepitus (grinding) in the joint. In more severe cases, individuals may even see joint deformity or enlargement.
Conservative management for OA is essentially any form of non-surgical treatment and can include any or all of the ones listed below. It is important to discuss these with your physician to determine if they are specifically appropriate for you and your condition.
• Nonsteroid Anti-inflammatory Medication (NSAIDs).
This is something you would discuss with your doctor.
This is something you could discuss with your doctor and/or a physical therapist.
• Nutrition and Supplements.
This is something you can discuss with your doctor and/or a registered dietitian/nutritionist.
Improving the flexibility and strength of the supporting muscles has proven to be extremely beneficial in treating OA and can often times delay or even prevent the need of having surgery. Increasing your activity level can also result in weight loss, which improves the symptoms associated with OA. If appropriate, being taken through a supervised exercise program by a licensed physical therapist may be the best way to treat your condition.
If you have been dealing with joint pain that increases with activity/throughout the day, frequent joint swelling and tenderness, and/or crepitus (grinding) in the joint, it might be worth having one of our orthopedic specialists perform an evaluation to determine the cause of your symptoms and what the appropriate course of treatment is.