Burdening over 32.5 million Americans, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint arthritis, affecting hands, knees, shoulders, and hips. The affected joints experience pain, and sometimes become swollen and stiff. While OA is prevalent in people above 60, it also affects people in their 20s and 30s.
OA is easily identified through diagnostic images and analysis of typical symptoms. OA is a chronic disease that worsens over time if left untreated. While there is no treatment for OA, management can slow its progression. That said, let’s look at the four stages of OA, and the respective treatment plans.
This is the least severe stage of OA, which is characterized by minor wear and tear in the joints. It’s accompanied with little or no pain. If you don’t have any history of OA, your doctor may leave your symptoms untreated, but can prescribe supplements (like chondroitin and glucosamine) or advise you to tweak your exercise regimen.
Here diagnostic images or X-rays of your knee joints show noticeable bone spur growth- the point where bones meet at the joint. While the cartilage (space between bones) is still healthy, the affected area may develop a feeling of stiffness, especially after extended periods of sitting down or after working out.
Because the doctor can detect the disease at this stage, a treatment plan involves non-pharmacologic therapies (no need to take medicine) to help relieve pain and discomfort. To help you strengthen muscles around the joint, your doctor will advise you to undertake first line treatment for osteoarthritis, which offers specific, individualized exercises.
Other OA management strategies include alleviating exertion on your knees by refraining from kneeling or squatting. Wearing braces can help stabilize the knees. Also, shoe inserts can help align your legs to reduce pressure exerted on the joints.
At this stage, there is obvious damage to the cartilage and patients experience frequent pain when kneeling, bending, walking, or running. Patients may also experience joint stiffness after sitting for extended periods or when waking up after sleeping for long.
If therapies don’t provide the much-needed pain relief, the doctor can prescribe corticosteroids, which contain a hormone called cortisone that eases pain when injected near the affected joint. If nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) don’t work, your doctor could prescribe pain-relieving medicine like oxycodone or codeine.
At this stage, patients experience excruciating pain when walking or when joints move. At the severe stage, the cartilage and the synovial fluid are significantly decreased, leaving stiffened and almost immobile joints.
Treatments include bone realignment surgery (osteotomy) and total knee replacement (arthroplasty). Patients that have undergone surgery may take several weeks or months to make full recovery.
Osteoarthritis not only alters your way of life but is painful. While there is no treatment for OA, early diagnosis can help devise disease management strategies to slow the progression of the condition, helping patients live a normal life. That said, be wise, and visit your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms.