Your knee aches from time to time. Or maybe your fingers don’t seem as nimble as they used to be. Is it osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, which affects 27 million Americans. Many people believe it’s a crippling and inevitable part of growing old. But things are changing. Treatments are better, and plenty of people age well without much arthritis. If you have osteoarthritis, you can take steps to protect your joints, reduce discomfort, and improve mobility.
Osteoarthritis develops when cartilage, the flexible tissue lining the joints, deteriorates. As a result, the space between bones gradually narrows and the bone surfaces change shape. Over time, this leads to joint damage and pain.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop over many years. The first sign is often joint pain after strenuous activity or overusing a joint. Joints may be stiff in the morning, but loosen up after a few minutes of movement. Or the joint may be mildly tender, and movement may cause a crackling or grating sensation. Some people have continual joint pain that interferes with sleep.
People with osteoarthritis often have it in more than one joint. It is most common in the knee, hip, lower back, neck, and certain finger joints.
Knees. When osteoarthritis affects the knee, the result is pain, swelling, and stiffness of that joint. What starts out as some discomfort after a period of disuse can progress to difficulty walking, climbing, bathing, and getting in and out of bed.
Hands. Osteoarthritis of the hand often starts with stiffness and soreness of the fingers and in the base of the thumb, particularly in the morning. You may find that it becomes harder to pinch, and your joints crackle when moved. People with hand osteoarthritis may have difficulty doing routine movements, like opening a jar, turning a key, or typing.
Hips and spine. When osteoarthritis affects the hip, pain may be felt in the groin, down the inside thigh, or even as far away as the knee. Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine (in the neck) can cause pain in the shoulders and arms. When it affects the lower spine, pain can spread to the buttocks or legs.
Osteoarthritis – Prevention
Stay at a healthy weight or loss weight if you need to. Extra weight puts a lot of stress on the large, weight-bearing joints such as the knees, the hips, and the balls of the feet. Osteoarthritis Health Center experts estimate that every 1 lb (0.5 kg) of body weight adds about4 lb (1.8 kg) of stress to the knee. This means that if you lost just 5 lb (2.3 kg), you could take 20 lb (9.1 kg)of stress off your knees.
Protect your joints. Try not to do tasks that cause pain or swelling in joints. And try to use the largest joints or strongest muscles to do things. A single major injury to a joint or several minor injuries can damage cartilage over time.
Stay active. A lack of exercise can cause your muscles and joints to become weak. But light to moderate exercise can help keep your muscles strong and reduce joint pain and stiffness. For example, if your quadriceps (the muscles in the front of your thigh) are weak, you may be more likely to get arthritis of the knee. Compound exercise- moves that involve more than one joint, such as squats, lounges, and leg presses – also activate more total muscle, increasing both calorie burn and strength. Experiment with using free weight rather than machies.
For more on keeping your joints healthy and ways to ease the pain caused by osteoarthritis, Living Well with Osteoarthritis, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School and Osteoarthritis Health Center www.webmd.com
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