As we age, our bodies may not recover as quickly from strenuous activity or long periods spent sitting or standing in a single position. On those occasions, some people may feel stiffness or discomfort, but it usually passes in time. If you’re feeling chronic pain in your joints, hands, hip, knee, lower back or neck, however, you may be suffering from a condition called osteoarthritis (OA).

Causes and Risk Factors

According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is a disease of the joint, and is the result of a variety of factors – some that can be controlled and some that can’t.

Osteoarthritis generally occurs when there is an absence of cartilage, the important connective tissue that cushions the bones in our joints. When that cushion is removed, bones meet, causing pain, stiffness, swelling and reduced mobility. While it is a rare, some patients’ bodies do not produce an adequate amount of collagen, the protein that creates cartilage. Other patients may have a bone structure that breaks down their cartilage cushion more quickly.

Those factors are generally hereditary and not preventable. Other factors, however, can be managed to help prevent OA from occurring.  For example, being overweight or participating in activities that encourage repetitive movements, can increase a person’s risk of developing osteoarthritis.  The Arthritis Foundation explains:

Weight: Being overweight puts additional pressure on hips and knees. Many years of carrying extra pounds can cause the cartilage that cushions joints to break down faster. Research has shown there is a link between being overweight and having an increased risk of osteoarthritis in the hands. These studies suggest that excess fat tissue produces inflammatory chemicals (cytokines) that can damage the joints.

Injury and overuse: Repetitive movements or injuries to joints (such as a fracture, surgery or ligament tears) can lead to osteoarthritis. Some athletes, for example, repeatedly damage joints, tendons and ligaments, which can speed cartilage breakdown. Certain careers that require standing for long periods of time, repetitive bending, heavy lifting or other movements can also make cartilage wear away more quickly. An imbalance or weakness of the muscles supporting a joint can also lead to altered movement and eventual cartilage breakdown in joints.

Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis but symptoms can be managed using a variety of methods, ranging from relatively simple lifestyle changes you can make on your own to more deliberate medical intervention with the help of your doctor. It’s important to consult your physician before following any new diet or exercise regime – especially if you have medical factors that may be impacted by the changes described below.

Options for managing your OA symptoms on your own:

  • Increase your physical activity – Depending on your level of mobility, you may want to start slow, perhaps with regular walking.  Exercise classes can also be an effective means of increasing your physical activity.  If your symptoms are severe, look for classes conducted in a pool (such as water walking or water aerobics), that allow you to exercise without putting additional pressure on your bones and joints.
  • Manage your weight – By decreasing your body’s weight, you decrease the pressure put on your joints. Nutritional counseling (available through Sebastopol Orthopaedics) can help get you on the right track for losing weight safely and effectively.
  • Stretch – Gentle stretching may improve your flexibility.  Flexible bodies are less prone to stiffness and pain.  If you need help stretching look for a gentle stretch or gentle yoga class taught by a certified instructor.

Options for treating OA with the help of your doctor:

  • Medications – These can range from over the counter medications designed to reduce inflammation to stronger prescription medications and corticosteroid injections received in our office.
  • Physical or Occupational Therapy – Your doctor can prescribe physical or occupational therapy designed to help you improve strength and flexibility.
  • Surgery – Surgical treatment options are available when pain has reached a point where mobility is extremely difficult. Surgical treatment of OA has come a long way in the past twenty years and many non-invasive techniques are available to reduce or eliminate pain after a short recovery period.

Don’t let pain from osteoarthritis keep you from doing the things you love. Contact Sebastopol Orthopaedics at 707.823.7602 to be evaluated by one of our medical providers and start managing your osteoarthritis today.