Osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful joint condition that affects many people, with 4.4 million people showing symptoms of OA in the UK alone. OA also places a great burden on the economy, with the annual cost of hip and knee replacements exceeding £850 million and the loss of economic productivity due to OA annually has been estimated to be over £3.2 billion per year.
Find out more about the symptoms of osteoarthritis, the different types of OA and how your osteopath can help with treatment.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
OA is a degenerative joint disease that leads to damage and loss of the joint cartilage which occurs with constant overuse of the joints. The main affected areas are weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, facet joints (in the spine), feet and most commonly in the hands. OA is often confused with rheumatoid arthritis, which happens in a different way (to learn more about the differences, check out our blog on Osteo vs Rheumatoid Arthritis).
There are several other risk factors that contribute towards OA:
- Metabolic disease
- Bone density
- Muscle functions
Lifestyle factors play a big role in the development of OA, and a job or hobbies that involve repeated strain to the joints mentioned in the previous paragraph can make you more susceptible to OA.
As an osteopath, many people that I see in the clinic tell me about their joint stiffness, particularly in the morning or after increased movement. OA usually affects the older generation, with 33.6% of people diagnosed with OA being over the age of 65. There is also a slightly greater chance of developing OA if you are female and over the age of 50.
What Are The Different Stages Of Osteoarthritis?
There are five different stages of OA:
- Stage 0 – No sign of OA.
- Stage 1 – Minor wear and tear to the joint cartilage along with minor bone spurs (small lumps that grow on the bones close to the joints).
- Stage 2 – Bone spur growth but normal spaces between the joints. Some stiffness and discomfort.
- Stage 3 – Moderate degeneration of the cartilage. Pain and stiffness in the morning and after rest, along with popping when moving the joint.
- Stage 4 – Degeneration has severely reduced the cartilage, leading to chronic inflammation around the joint. Reduction in synovial fluid, the substance that eases movement in a joint. Functional activities such as walking are a challenge.
As mentioned before, OA can also affect different parts of the body, all of which are explained in more detail here.
Hand OA is common in the wrist, thumb, fingertips and knuckles. The symptoms include stiffness and difficulty moving fingers, aching when using the hand, a weak grip, and swelling or tenderness around the affected area. Bone spurs may start to appear as the OA becomes more advanced, which cannot be removed once formed and can cause the hands and fingers to look misshapen.
22.5% of people aged over 70 have hand OA, which makes it the most common site form of OA.
70% of knee OA affects the inside of the joint, which can cause bowed legs as the body tries to reduce the contact around the affected surfaces. This can also lead to ligament laxity (hypermobility in affected joints). Knee OA is very common in former athletes (mainly running sports like football, rugby and tennis), but is also often seen in those who are overweight.
Around 19.2% of people 80 or over have knee OA, and women are up to four times more likely to develop OA than men.
Hip OA is the least common of the different types of OA. It often presents as groin pain, with most people coming into clinic unable to tolerate leaning forward with their knees together. Hip OA is caused as the joint shortens and is then stretched, and this can lead people to turn their feet outwards or sit with open legs to alleviate the pain.
As with knee OA, hip OA is fairly common in former athletes. Prevalence of hip OA is around 17% in people 75 and above.
Osteoarthritis And Diet
In a lot of cases, OA is genetic and will occur naturally over time, but there are ways of reducing the general risk. A healthy diet and sensible weight management can help as this reduces the stress on the weight-bearing joints.
Evidence has shown eating food containing flavonoids, which have strong anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties, can help alleviate the symptoms of OA. The following foods all contain flavonoids:
- Red onions
- Red apples
- Leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
Treatment For Osteoarthritis
Osteopaths can help achieve good results in reducing symptoms of OA, as well as helping to provide good advice in the ongoing management of the condition. Traction and oscillatory techniques can help to increase the amount of synovial fluid, which eases movement within the joint, particularly when the cartilage has degenerated. This degeneration can’t be reversed but we can give you the best chance of managing the symptoms of OA.
A full and frank explanation into the symptoms and prognosis of OA can often help people look to the future rather than focusing on the problems, so if you’re concerned about OA or joint pain, speak to us today to arrange an appointment.
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