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About osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is caused by wearing away of the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones where they meet other bones. It can affect any joint but most commonly develops in hips, knees, spine and hands.

Cartilage is the tough, slippery coating of tissue that covers the surface of bones, helping them to move freely against one another. As we age, osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage to thin and the surface to become rougher so the joint doesn’t move as smoothly as it should. Over time, the joint may swell as a result of thickening of the lining of the joint capsule. Bony spurs (osteophytes) can form at the edge of the joint, restricting movement and causing pain. Tissues surrounding the joint may stretch causing it to become less stable. You may feel a grating sensation and hear popping or cracking in the joint.

Around 8.75 million people in the UK have sought treatment for osteoarthritis. It can have a detrimental impact on a person’s life, causing worsening pain and loss of mobility. However, there are treatments available that can help so it is important to talk to a specialist that can outline your options.

The precise causes of osteoarthritis aren’t fully understood. However, a number of factors are known to increase your risk of the condition, including:

  • Ageing – the condition occurs most frequently over the age of 40.
  • Gender – women are more likely than men to suffer from osteoarthritis.
  • Being overweight – excess weight places certain joints, such as hips and knees, under increased strain.
  • Genetics – your genes may make you more susceptible to certain forms of osteoarthritis.
  • Abnormal joints – being born with joint abnormalities or developing them in childhood can increase your risk.
  • Injuries – if you injure your joints or have surgery you are more likely to develop osteoarthritis as you age. Jobs that are very physically demanding can also increase your risk.

It is important to get an early diagnosis as treatments are available that can help to manage the symptoms and may slow the development of the disease, although it cannot be reversed.

An orthopaedic consultant will normally carry out a detailed physical examination to check for joint tenderness, swelling, inflammation and instability. You may be offered a blood test to rule out other forms of arthritis and X-rays can show calcium deposits in the joint. In complex cases you may be given an MRI scan to provide more information.

There are many different ways to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis, some of which involve making lifestyle changes while others involve specialist treatment. Among the common treatments are:

  • Lifestyle changes – including weight loss, low-impact exercise and diet. These can lessen the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis. Yoga and Tai Chi may also be helpful. Some people take supplements such as glucosamine and Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Pain-relieving medication – including prescribed medicines such as acetaminophen and anti-inflammatories.
  • Injections of cortisone for pain-relief or hyaluronic acid to lubricate the joints.
  • Physical therapies – A physiotherapist will be able to recommend exercises to help to maintain and improve movement in the affected joint. You may also be offered occupational therapy to learn how to perform everyday tasks without putting additional stress on painful joints.
  • Surgery – including procedures to realign the bones or joint replacement surgery.
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Although it may not be possible to prevent osteoarthritis completely, there are steps you can take to improve your joint health, including:

  • Taking care to lift, twist and kneel correctly – a doctor or orthopaedic surgeon can advise you.
  • Low impact exercises to maintain strength and flexibility.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight will reduce stress on your joints
  • Regulating blood sugar levels and keeping diabetes under control can help to reduce inflammation that can accelerate cartilage loss.

Whatever your age, our expertise can help you feel healthy, active and pain-free again.