By far the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis is caused and characterized by the degeneration and breakdown of the joints and the surrounding cartilage. The cartilage of the bones provide cushioning and shock absorption to the joints and aid in the proper movement and range-of-motion of the limbs, fingers and toes. When the breakdown of cartilage occurs, the bones of the joint will begin to rub against each other and cause pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Osteoarthritis can be categorized into two sub-groups, Primary Osteoarthritis and Secondary Osteoarthritis. Primary osteoarthritis is characterized by wear and tear of the joints that has been caused by age and simple degeneration, and has no known cause beyond the expected degeneration of age. Secondary Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that actually has a known cause, such as injury, anatomical deformity of the joint, obesity, or overuse.
Osteoarthritis can affect people at any age, but is far more common in those over the age of 50. Early osteoarthritis symptoms include gradually worsening stiffness, pain in the joints, swelling, localized heat, and redness of the skin over the joint. As osteoarthritis progresses, it can actually becoming debilitating and cause loss of function.
Once you suspect that you are suffering from osteoarthritis, a physician can confirm the diagnosis through a physical examination, diagnostic imaging like x-rays or MRIs, and possibly blood work or other diagnostic tests. Treatments for osteoarthritis are varied, and depend on the severity and location of the arthritis. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are often the most recommended treatment and can help with the inflammation that accompanies osteoarthritis. Using a cold compress on the painful joint has also shown to be extremely helpful, as are injections of corticosteroids into the joint, which can be performed in the office. There are nutritional supplements that can be taking including glucosamine, and your physician may recommend that you lose weight or avoid activities that lend to overuse. One of the most beneficial things an osteoarthritis patient can do is consistent exercise. While it may be difficult to get started, consistent exercise will help keep the joints flexible and lubricated as much as possible, and can help reduce stiffness.
If conservative treatments mentioned above fail and quality of life or mobility is severely affected, surgery may be the next option. A full joint replacement is possible and may be recommended by the physicians at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists. There are also other surgical options that are available including arthroscopic debridement and arthrodesis, which will be discussed if your orthopedic surgeon at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists feels that they are applicable.