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OSTEOARTHRITIS

Definition

Osteoarthritis is the swelling of joints due to wear and tear of the cartilages in the joints. It is seen mostly in old age.

It commonly occurs in the weight bearing joints like knees, hips, and spine.

It can also affect the other joints like fingers, toes, and neck if there is a previous injury to the joint, excessive stress or an underlying disease of cartilages.

Symptoms

Symptoms develop slowly and worsen over the time.

  • Pain during or after movement of the joint.
  • Tenderness of the joint.
  • The stiffness of joint in the morning or after keeping the joint without moving for quite a long time.
  • Loss of flexibility: one cannot move the joint freely.
  • Crepitus: crackling sound when the affected joint is in use.
  • Bone spurs: extra bits of bones may form around the joint, which feels like hard lumps.

Causes

Cartilage is an elastic material that covers the ends of bones in normal joints. Its main function is to reduce friction in the joints. The cartilage can change shape when compressed.

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in a joint becomes stiff and loses its ability to stretch, making it more prone to damage. Over time, the cartilage may wear out in some areas. As the cartilage declines, tendons and ligaments stretch, causing pain. If the condition worsens, the bones could rub against each other.

Risk factors for OA are:

  • Old age
  • Sex: women are more prone to get OA.
  • Obesity: produces stress on the weight-bearing joints as well as the fats produce some proteins which cause swelling around the joints.
  • Joint injuries: while playing certain sports or due to accidents.
  • Occupational OA: certain occupations in which stress is more on one particular joint can lead to OA of that joint.
  • Genetic history
  • Other diseases: like diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis or gout increases the risk of OA.

Diagnosis

Clinical diagnosis can be made by physical examination of the joints. Check for:

  • Tenderness
  • Restriction of movements
  • Crackling sounds when the joint is in use.

Other investigative procedures that can be carried out are:

Imaging tests

  • X-rays: cartilage loss can be seen as narrowed joint space between the bones of the affected joint. Also bone spurs can be seen.
  • MRI: gives a detailed study of bones, soft tissues, including cartilages in the joints.

Lab investigations

  • Blood tests: to rule out other types of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Joint fluid analysis: joint fluid will be taken out with a needle to examine if there is gout or some infection causing the joint swelling.

Self help

  • Regular exercises to keep the joints flexible and healthy. It also helps in improving the muscles and bones.
  • Reduction of weight to relieve the stress on the affected joints.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of nutrients which includes fruits and green leafy vegetables, whole grains, low-fats dairy products, certain healthy fats, and oils, etc.
  • Hot and cold applications to relieve pain and stiffness.