Your body is a machine that gets put through its paces each and every day and your joints take the brunt of the workload. Thanks to hours of walking, carrying packages and babies, running, playing sports and standing, you might find that your joints -- such as your knees, hips or neck – hurt and feel a little stiff. This could be osteoarthritis.
But you’re not alone. According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis isn’t just a disease that affects older people. It’s actually the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 30 million Americans, half of which are under 65.
“Everyone tries to pinpoint one thing in their life that caused their joint pain -- an old football injury, for example -- and, while that can contribute, it’s largely osteoarthritis, which is general wear and tear on the joints over time,” said Scott McDermott, MD, orthopedic surgeon with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Orthopaedics.
In a normal joint, cartilage covers the end of each bone, providing a cushion and a smooth surface for the joint to move. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage breaks down over time causing the joint to start to swell, which results in pain and stiffness. Other symptoms include limited
range of motion, clicking or cracking when the joint bends, muscle weakness and joint buckling. Osteoarthritis can also interrupt your sleep habits and affect your daily mobility.
If you’re suffering from joint pain, talk to your doctor. There are other types of arthritis as well, including rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune arthritis, infectious arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout. Your doctor can help to determine which arthritis you have.
“The way to tell if someone has osteoarthritis is if they have aches and pains particularly with prolonged activity, such as going up and down stairs, or anytime they're on their feet,” said Dr. McDermott. “We diagnose arthritis with a physical exam as well as x-rays or an MRI of the affected joint.”
Your risk factors for developing osteoarthritis include advanced age, obesity, genetics, gender (women are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis than men), bone density, trauma and a poor level of physical activity.
While osteoarthritis is not preventable, Dr. McDermott has what he calls the ‘Three L’s’ that he recommends to help ease your symptoms and delay the need for any surgical intervention -- light, limber and low-impact activities.
This means stay light, stay limber and do low-impact activities. “Light’ means keep your weight down because anywhere from four to seven times your body weight goes through the knee or hip joints,” he explained. “For limber, arthritis tends to make you stiff, especially your knees, so I recommend stretching every day. Finally, instead of doing high-impact activities like running, do the low-impact elliptical machine or bicycle or go swimming. These are things where you're not putting a lot of stress on the knee or hip joint.”
Arthritis is treated based on its severity, so for mild symptoms there are anti-inflammatory medicines, like Ibuprofen or Tylenol, that you can take, and topical creams you can use on the affected joint.
“As you get more severe arthritis on the spectrum, we can offer more prescription strength, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, like meloxicam (Mobic),” said Dr. McDermott. “Then when that doesn’t work well, we talk about the next level of treatments, such as steroid injections or gel shots into the affected joints.”
The next option for more severe arthritis? “A hip or knee replacement is the only true fix to the underlying problem,” said Dr. McDermott. “The other treatment modalities are aimed at making your lifestyle more comfortable and managing the arthritis.”
Roper St. Francis Healthcare can help if you think that you have arthritis. To learn more about what can be done or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 958-2590 or visit rsfh.com.