The term "arthritis" covers a variety of medical conditions that all affect the health of joints, bones, cartilage and connective tissues and can impair movement. Osteoarthritis is the most common type, affecting millions of Americans. It also seems to be the form of arthritis most related to aging, injuries, overuse and other factors. It most often affects older people.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
Despite its prevalence, researchers aren’t sure of the exact cause of osteoarthritis. Factors that seem to play a role in increasing risk include a family history of the disease, injury, obesity and weak muscles around the joints. Anyone can develop osteoarthritis, but the incidence of the disease definitely increases as a person gets older.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can cause a variety of symptoms, but typically the first to occur are joint pain and stiffness. This can occur at different times in different people. For example, some experience more pain and stiffness after inactivity, while others experience it after overusing the joint. Some people with osteoarthritis will experience a period of stiffness when first waking up in the morning. Others will see their symptoms worsen as the day progresses and they continue to use their joints.
Other symptoms of osteoarthritis include a cracking or grinding noise at the joint, swelling and gradually decreasing function of the joint. Over time, the pain and reduced function can worsen if the osteoarthritis is not treated.
Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Treatments for osteoarthritis vary widely, depending on the severity of the disease and the specific joints in the body that are affected. In general, some form of physical therapy, gentle exercises and weight loss or weight control will help lessen the impact of the disease on the joints and improve mobility and quality of life. A variety of medications are also used, either oral medications or an injection directly into the joint to relieve pain. Some natural supplements have also been shown to help osteoarthritis pain. And in extreme situations, surgery to repair or replace the joint might be necessary.
SOURCES: Arthritis Foundation; American College of Rheumatology