Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that is caused by the cartilage in your joints starting to wear away. Cartilage is there to cushion your joints but it naturally starts to wear as you age. If significant amounts wear away, it can cause the bones to begin rubbing together. The result is pain and inflammation which may worsen until it becomes debilitating. Osteoarthritis can affect almost any joint but most commonly affects hips, knees, ankles, wrists, fingers, neck and lower back.
This condition is the most common forms of arthritis among older people. It affects men and women but after the age of 45 it is women who are most commonly affected. Before that it is more prevalent in men.
What happens in the early stages of osteoarthritis?
In the early stages of osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions your joints starts to wear and become thinner, torn and inflamed. It loses water which causes the cartilage to harden, which makes it harder for the surrounding joint to move. It is a gradual process that can go on for years before the condition deteriorates further.
Warning signs of osteoarthritis
Knowing what to look out for can help you spot osteoarthritis in its early stages. These are some of the symptoms that could indicate the onset of osteoarthritis:
- Pain in your joint– you might start to notice an ache or tenderness in the affected joint. If you move in a particular way this might become a sharp pain.
- Stiffness– this may be most noticeable when you first wake up or if you have been sitting still for a long time. Although it can be tempting to stay in bed, it is most beneficial to get up and about as exercise helps to relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
- Swelling and tenderness– the joint may be visibly swollen or it may feel tender to the touch.
- Loss of movement– you may start to notice that some movements that once felt easy and comfortable now feel awkward or painful. You may no longer be able to bend and flex your hips or knees as you once did, or you might start to have trouble opening a jar. This loss of range of motion can be one of the earliest indications that you may be developing osteoarthritis.
- Grating, cracking or clicking– because the cartilage helps your joints to move smoothly, when it begins to wear away you may notice a grating feeling or hear a clicking or cracking sound. This is caused by the bones in your joint rubbing together.
If the condition affects your hips or knees, you may find it increasingly difficult to walk, get up out of a chair and go up and down stairs. The onset of hip arthritis can lead to pain and stiffness in the hips but also the buttocks, inner thighs, groin or knees.
Bending and moving may become harder and getting dressed or putting your socks and shoes on may be challenging. If you are developing osteoarthritis in your spine, you may have stiffness or pain in your lower back or neck. Sometimes weakness or tingling of the arms and legs can develop, due to pressure on the nerves as they exit the spinal column.
Risk factors for osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is normally due to a combination of environmental factors and other factors in the body including your genetic makeup. Putting too much stress on a joint that has previously been injured, as well as being overweight can contribute to the development of the disease. Emotional stress is also known to increase the risk of arthritis.
What to do if you suspect you have osteoarthritis
If you suspect you may have the early signs of osteoarthritis it is important to get an accurate and proper diagnosis so that you can agree a treatment plan.
Although the condition cannot be reversed, you can take steps to slow the development of the disease. Diagnosis normally entails a physical examination, X-rays and laboratory tests. If osteoarthritis is confirmed, you may be able to use an assistive device to support the joint and apply heat or cold to ease pain and swelling. Your doctor may offer pain-killing and anti-inflammatory medication, therapeutic injections and support with weight loss. As the condition develops you may be offered surgical treatment.
Due to Covid-19 there is currently a delay in many types of routine surgery so it is important to talk to your doctor or surgeon about how you can manage your condition more effectively in the meantime.
Carrothers Orthopaedics consultations
Carrothers Orthopaedics is still here for our patients during this time of the UK COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst treatment options have been restricted in previous months, we are still providing online consultations via Zoom or telephone, as well as face to face if the condition necessitates. During this time, Carrothers Orthopaedics has been able to operate privately, when the condition and symptoms are severe and surgery in the only option.
We are here for you to talk through your symptoms, provide diagnosis with imaging modalities and discuss the full range of treatments available to you.
Please contact us by telephone or email to arrange a consultation.