Osteoarthritis (OA) is the leading cause of pain and disability in the community, and the most common condition leading to joint replacement surgery of the hip and knee.
Osteoarthritis is probably one of the commonest things we see these days in society. In fact, if we all lived long enough, we’d probably all get some degree of osteoarthritis.
Hi, I’m Dr Joe.
Like a lot of terms in medicine it’s bandied around but it’s useful to go back to basics and to find what are we actually talking about when we use the term osteoarthritis. We’re talking about some degeneration of some on the joints, in simplest terms, wear and tear and when you think about it we are living longer than ever. In days gone by if you only lived say to 25, you probably didn’t get a lot of osteoarthritis, in the 1600’s there probably wasn’t a lot of it around. Today, with people living to 80, 90 and beyond, you know we’re on our feet a lot of the time, we’re doing things, we’re living things. There’s strain on the hips, the backs, the knees and as time goes by, these joints do wear out a little bit and that is essentially osteoarthritis. Other things do contribute, and yes there are genetic tendencies and if people have had injuries to a joint. So for example people who have had sporting injuries, those playing say football or rugby or other contact sports who have had major injuries to for example the hip or knee or ankle, would be more likely to get arthritis in that joint than say the corresponding one on the other side. We also know that weight is a major factor in osteoarthritis and some estimates have out as much as you know 70% of the osteoarthritis load is related to the fact hat we’re carrying too many kilos for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, yes that does put loads on our joints and of course they wear out a little bit more quickly.
Like most things, there’s a range from mild to severe. In mild forms of arthritis is can be managed with very simple measures, some people don’t need to do much at all; it doesn’t cause them a lot of pain. For other people you may need to take some simple painkillers, things like paracetamol or ibuprofen, physical therapies like physio therapy and massage can be helpful, exercises are one of the most important measures in helping osteoarthritis because is does improve muscle function, it helps mobility in the joint, because apart from pain, loss of mobility is the other hallmark symptom that people may have. In more serious cases, you may need surgery and these days a number of joints, particularly the hip and the knee, can and are replaced. There are other forms of surgery as well if it doesn’t need to go to the stage of joint replacement.
In terms of prevention, look, to a degree we can’t wind back the hands of time so we can’t say that its impossible for people to get a bit of wear and tear in their joints. However, by doing some regular exercise, by looking after your bones, getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, by managing your weight so you’re not carting around too many excess kilos, these are all going to be very helpful in making it less rather than more likely that you’ll get more severe arthritis. However, some people will still develop major problems with their joints and fortunately, in this day and age, things like joint replacement surgery is very, very beneficial for people. I hear a lot of patients say look it has given me a new lease on life but if worse does come to worst, perhaps one way of looking at it, there are major things that can be done to help.
So, osteoarthritis, very, very common, not for a lot of people particularly serious, for some people, quite serious and distressing and there are all points in between. As with everything, particularly our more lifestyle related conditions, prevention where possible by looking after your joints in your early and middle years is going to give you the best chance as you reach your older years.
For more information on Osteoarthritis, including causes, symptoms and treatments, see Osteoarthritis.