Osteoarthritis is damage or natural wear and tear to cartilage, the smoother surface of the joints that help them glide.
"We are all born with cartilage, and it has to last a whole lifetime because it doesn't heal or grow back," said Dr. Eric Porritt, an orthopedic surgeon at North Denver Bone and Joint Specialists. "If we prematurely damage cartilage, it turns into what we know as arthritis"
The most common chronic condition that impacts your joints, osteoarthritis affects roughly 34 percent of adults older than 65 in the U.S. While it's normal to experience wear and tear on your joints over time, certain risk factors can speed up this breakdown.
What's my risk?
While fractures, tears or surgeries can cause joint cartilage to break down, other factors can increase your risk of getting osteoarthritis, including your weight. Carrying extra weight places pressure on joints, causing the cushioning to break down. Extra adipose tissue can also contribute to a greater number of inflammatory chemicals in the body that can damage your joints.
Age and genetics also play a part in the health of your joints. Osteoarthritis risk increases with age, and genetic defects in joint cartilage or joint malformations can cause you to develop the disease earlier. People with health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, acromegaly (a hormonal growth condition) and hemochromatosis (an iron disorder) may be at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.
What are osteoarthritis treatments?
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, aspirin and naproxen, are common osteoarthritis treatments, but always consult with your physician before starting a medication regimen. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe common arthritis treatment like injectable anti-inflammatory medications, surgery, mobility aids or physical therapy. Hot and cold therapy, including the use of heated paraffin and ice baths, may help relieve joint pain and stiffness.
"Conservative treatments for early osteoarthritis consist of medicine for diminishing inflammation, either in the form of oral pills or injections to the joint," said Dr. Porritt. "Physical therapy helps to maintain flexibility and stability of the joint, and bracing is appropriate in some cases. There are also assistive devices like canes, walkers, splints and shoe orthotics."
According to Dr. Porritt, if osteoarthritis is severe and conservative management fails, joint replacement is the only surgical option that has shown long-term favorable outcomes.
Does exercise help osteoarthritis pain?
Stretching, resistance training and light cardiovascular exercises are all healthy ways to manage your osteoarthritis. If your range of motion is limited, try simple stretching exercises like yoga or Tai Chi to improve flexibility and ease joint pain and stiffness. Depending on where your osteoarthritis is located, exercises like leg lifts and rotations encourage flexibility and minimize stiffness. Strength training can also build muscles around the joints and reduce pain while aerobic exercises like swimming and walking help keep your energy levels high for healthy weight management.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what types of exercises might be right for you.
What is the long-term outlook?
Osteoarthritis can be a pain but is manageable with the right arthritis treatment. Left untreated, osteoarthritis can start to interfere with your daily life. Talk to your doctor if you have trouble attending social events, doing chores around the house or exercising.
"Oftentimes, a patient has been suffering unduly. Anyone with joint pain is an appropriate candidate to be evaluated by an orthopedist," said Dr. Porritt. "An orthopedist can give you specialized guidance for treatment options and long-term prognosis, and can make both non-invasive and surgical recommendations, if warranted."
See the Dave Logan interview with Dr. Porritt about the innovative SuperPATH hip replacement technique that spares tissue and allows for faster recovery. For more information about Dr. Porritt or North Denver Bone and Joint Specialists, call (303) 453-2997 or visit denverboneandjoint.com.