A Common American Problem: Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition in which low-grade inflammation results in pain in the joints. It is the most common form of arthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease or arthrosis, osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing of the cartilage that covers and cushions the inside of the joints. This "wear and tear" on the joints causes sufferers to experience pain when bearing weight or moving the joints, including when walking or standing.

Nearly 21 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis. The main symptom of osteoarthritis is chronic pain, which causes the loss of mobility and stiffness. The pain is characterized by either a sharp ache or burning sensation in the muscles and tendons surrounding the worn out joint. Osteoarthritis has also been known to cause a crackling noise called crepitus when the affected joint is moved or touched. Patients may also experience muscle spasms and contractions in the tendons. Joints may occasionally fill with fluid and humid weather often increases the pain for many patients.

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, feet, spine, hips, and knees. As it progresses, the affected joints appear larger, are stiff and painful, and usually feel worse the more that they are used throughout the day. In the fingers, hard bony enlargements called Heberden's nodes and/or Bouchard's nodes may form. They may or may not be painful and limit the movement of the fingers significantly. Bunions may form on toes affected by osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis may be divided into two types: primary and secondary osteoarthritis. Aging causes primary osteoarthritis. As a person ages, the water and content of the cartilage decreases and its protein composition degenerates. This causes the cartilage to degenerate through repetitive use or misuse. Inflammation can also occur and stimulate new bone outgrowths known as "spurs" to form around the joints.

Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by other conditions or diseases such as congenital disorders like congenital hip luxation or abnormally formed joints, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, joint injuries, hormonal disorders, ligamentous deterioration or instability, obesity, osteopertrosis, sports injuries, and joint surgery. It is usually diagnosed through x-rays. The wearing out of cartilage that causes osteoarthritis is irreversible, so the goal of treatment is to reduce joint pain while improving and maintaining joint function. Treatment can be a mild pain reliever for most cases. However, in more severe cases, sufferers are usually prescribed with high dosages of NSAIDs - Non-Steroidal-Anti-Inflammatory-Drugs. The downside of these treatments is symptoms such as an upset stomach, cramping, diarrhea, and peptic ulcers.

Other measures of controlling osteoarthritis include weight control, appropriate rest and exercise, and the use of mechanical support devices such as knee braces, a cane or a walker. Regular exercise like walking or swimming is also encouraged, as well as applying heat and cold packs after exercise and doing relaxation techniques. Talk to a medical professional to find out more about this disease and its treatments.

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