The Basics of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It affects 20 million Americans, the majority of whom are women over the age of 45. It is a result of the breakdown of the cartilage between joints, and most commonly affects the fingers, knees, hips, and spine. The cause is believed to be mechanical stress which upsets the balance of certain enzymes in the joints, leading to the erosion of the cushioning cartilage.
Hard, bony swellings, called "nodes," can appear on the finger joints and restrict range of motion. These swellings are typical of osteoarthritis, and when they first appear can be quite painful. As the disease progresses, pain becomes less of a factor, although the range of motion in affected joints remains compromised.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are many options available to manage the symptoms. These include medication, exercise, weight loss, rest between activities, and alternating the use of hot and cold compresses. Recommended exercises include: walking, swimming, bicycle riding, or Tai Chi. A nutritional diet and good sleep habits are also suggested.
A combination of several other types of treatment may help alleviate symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) both relieve pain and reduce inflammation, however long-term use sometimes results in stomach bleeding, heart failure, or fluid retention. Ointments, creams, sprays, or gels can temporarily relieve pain, especially if the affected joint is close to the skin. Certain antidepressants have been shown to help patients with OA manage their symptoms. Surgery, including joint replacement, is an option in some severe cases.