Don’t Let Osteoarthritis Get The Best Of You

By DR. CULLEY CHRISTENSEN
Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon, LAMC

If you have the degenerative joint disease known as osteoarthritis, you’re not alone. The disease affects 27 million Americans. There is no cure, but you can manage the symptoms through treatment and proper self-care.

Do you wonder how you happened to get osteoarthritis? It turns out the answer isn’t always clear. Osteoarthritis has no single known cause, but certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing the disease. They include:

  • Getting older
  • Being overweight—every extra pound adds 3 pounds of pressure to your knees and 6 pounds to your hips
  • Overusing or injuring a joint
  • Having a family member with osteoarthritis
  • Having muscle weakness around the knees

Most Common Symptoms

While osteoarthritis doesn’t have the same effect on everyone, knowing the common symptoms can alert you to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

Symptoms usually develop gradually, and pain levels can vary from moderate to severe. Intense pain can seriously hamper your ability to walk, work, or sleep. Typical symptoms include:

  • Sore joints following overuse or inactivity
  • Stiffness following inactivity
  • Stiffness after waking up that improves in 30 minutes
  • Joint pain that is tolerable in the morning and worse in the evening
  • Impaired coordination, posture, and gait due to chronic pain and stiffness

What Often Helps

In early osteoarthritis, helpful treatments include physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications to reduce inflammation and reduce pain.

If these therapies fail to ease the symptoms, surgical options may be suggested. Minimally invasive surgery can remove bone spurs or fragments in the affected joint, for instance. More extensive procedures can realign bones, fuse joints, or replace joints.

What You Can Do

There are also many steps you can take yourself, including:

  • Engaging in moderate exercise to make joints more flexible and muscles stronger
  • Taking breaks to avoid stress on your joints when sitting, standing, or being physically active for a long time
  • Using good body mechanics and assistive devices to protect your joints and go about your daily tasks

Through pacing and planning your activities, following your doctor’s treatment advice, and embracing effective self-care, it’s possible to live well with osteoarthritis.

To find out more, visit the Arthritis Foundation’s website at www.arthritis.org.

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