Submitted by Carol Tomlinson, RN BS
Community Health Educator
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis (OA) is a leading cause of disability affecting more than 27 million adults in the US. Sometimes called degenerative joint disease, OA can affect any joint but it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers, and the bases of the thumb and big toe.
In normal joints, a firm, rubbery material called cartilage covers the ends of each bone. Cartilage provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion and acts as a cushion between bones. In OA, the cartilage breaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space causing more pain and damage.
OA symptoms often develop slowly and worsen over time. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Pain: A joint may hurt during or after movement.
- Tenderness: Your joint may feel tender when you apply light pressure to it.
- Stiffness: Joint stiffness may be most noticeable upon awakening or after a period of inactivity.
- Loss of Flexibility: Affected joints may no longer be capable of full range of motion.
- Grating Sensation: You may hear or feel a grating sensation when using the joint.
- Bone Spurs: Hard lumps may form around the joint.
Factors that may increase your risk of OA include:
- Age: The risk increases with age.
- Sex: Women are more likely to develop OA, though it is unclear why.
- Obesity: Increased weight puts added stress on weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees. Also, fat tissue produces proteins that can cause harmful inflammation in and around joints.
- Joint Injuries: Even injuries that occurred long ago and seemingly healed can increase risk.
- Genetics: OA seems to be prevalent in some families more than others.
Currently, the process underlying OA cannot be reversed, but symptoms can often be effectively managed with a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, medication and at times surgery. Lifestyle changes that can make a significant difference in treating OA include, but are not limited to:
- Exercise: Increases your endurance and strengthens the muscles around the joint, making it more stable.
- Lose Weight: Even a small amount of weight loss can relieve some pressure and reduce pain.
- Pain Medications: Talk to your physician about over-the-counter and/or prescription meds.
- Assistive Devices: Can make it easier to move and work without stressing your joint. Your doctor or therapist may have ideas about what devices would be most helpful.
- Attitude: A positive health attitude will greatly affect how well OA is managed. For example, focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t; break down activities into small tasks that are easy to manage; balance rest with activity; and develop ways to manage stress.
The ability to cope despite pain and disability often determines how much of an effect OA has on everyday life! HealthLink offers “Tai Chi For Arthritis” classes. This gentle form of exercise can safely relieve arthritis pain, improve flexibility, strength, balance, mental focus, and performance of daily activities.
For more information on osteoarthritis, talk to your health care provider, contact the Arthritis Foundation at arthritis.org or 456-1203, or call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, see our website at nlh.org, or visit our new wellness center at 2 Colonial Court in downtown Johnstown, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.