Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is a condition that can affect any joint in the body.
Our joints are protected by cartilage which acts like a shock absorber. In a joint that is affected by osteoarthritis the cartilage gradually roughens and wears thin. As this happens the bone underneath thickens and starts to grow outwards creating bony spurs known as osteophytes. The joint may also start to create extra fluid called synovial fluid which creates swelling within the joint. And the ligaments in the joint (the tough bands that hold the joint together) will thicken to try and protect the joint.
Our bodies are good at repairing themselves and sometimes the changes in the joint won’t cause any pain or problem but in severe osteoarthritis the cartilage can become so thin that it no longer covers the end of the bones. The bones then rub together and begin to wear away. The combination of the loss of cartilage, the wearing of the bone and the bone spurs can change the shape of the joint, forcing the bone into an abnormal position.
Osteoarthritis of the knee is the most commonly affected joint with over 1 million trips to the GP every year and is a leading cause of chronic disability
Symptoms of an osteoarthritic knee…
Stiffness/reduced range of movement
Not being able to use if normally i.e. climbing stairs
How is it diagnosed?
Osteoarthritis can usually be diagnosed by a medical practitioner (GP/Physio etc) by listening to the history of the pain/problem and assessing the joint.
An x-ray can help with a diagnosis but should not be relied upon on its own. Both the history and the x-ray need to be taken into account.
What can be done?
There are a wide variety of things that can be done for osteoarthritic joints.
Pain killing creams such as Capsaicin (made from the pepper plant)
Physiotherapy strengthening programme
Acupuncture to help with pain relief
Total knee replacements
Will it get worse as I get older?
Not necessarily, It is common misconception that the arthritic joint deteriorates as we get older. The body will always try to repair tissue damage.
If you are concerned you might have an osteoarthritic joint then seeing a physiotherapist can be very beneficial. There is increasing evidence that an individual rehabilitation programme can make substantial in pain levels and disability. Alternatively, if you are having or have had a total knee replacement and require pre or post op rehabilitation then a physiotherapist will be able to help you.
Arthritis UK is a great charity with an informative website: www.arthritisresearchuk.org