Osteoarthritis is a very common joint disease that affects the whole joint, but most of all it affects the articular cartilage which covers the ends of the bones. This articular cartilage becomes thin and fragile and can be due to it being exposed to heavy loads over a long period of time (e.g. heavy labour over several years) or unhealthy cartilage that for some reason cannot handle normal loads. The hip, knee and hands are the most commonly affected joints.
Is my joint worn out?
You may have heard osteoarthritis described as “wear and tear” or “bone on bone” of the joint. This statement is incorrect because loads are still needed to keep cartilage healthy. In a healthy joint, there is a balance between the regeneration and degeneration of cartilage. Osteoarthritis occurs when there is more degeneration (breakdown) than regeneration of cartilage. Cartilage needs a certain amount of load to regenerate, which is why healthy loads need to be applied on joints for cartilage recovery and reducing osteoarthritis symptoms.
What causes osteoarthritis?
There are several factors that increase your chance of getting osteoarthritis. Some of these factors you cannot change such as your age, gender or genes. However, there are factors that you can change such as; obesity, physical inactivity, and muscle weakness (weak muscles won’t provide proper support to a joint).
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis often affects one joint and symptoms progress slowly and can start for no apparent reason. Symptoms often include;
- Pain when moving or loading the joint. In time, pain can happen at rest or at night
- Joint stiffness and problems starting your day or getting going after sitting
- Difficulty bending your knee or hip
- Heat and swelling at the joint
- Muscle tightness
- Difficulty moving around
What’s the best treatment for osteoarthritis?
First line treatment of osteoarthritis consists of education, exercise and weight control.
- Education to improve knowledge and confidence in one’s ability to manage the condition.
- Exercise to gradually load the cartilage to reduce pain and makes it easier for people to do their daily activities.
- Weight reduction for lowering pain and improving function.
If you have osteoarthritis and start exercising, you might start to feel pain. The pain may last a while, but it is not dangerous to keep exercising. Some people stop activities completely and rest as much as they can. This can lead to even more loss of function and increased pain.