Osteoarthritis: 10 Facts That May Surprise You

  1. You are not destined to develop osteoarthritis in your advancing years. Osteoarthritis is not caused by years of joint use. Although it is the most common joint disorder, many lucky individuals get through life without developing it. 
  1. The development of osteoarthritis is a surprisingly complicated process. First, there has to be an abnormality of cells that make cartilage. The cartilage will swell from water retention. Eventually, the water-retaining cartilage will soften and develop cracks. In some cases, the bone will overgrow the edges of the joint and produce bumps (osteophytes). The usually smooth cartilage will become rough and pitted with time, decreasing the joint’s ability to move and absorb impact.
  1. Your doctor will ask you a few key questions if they suspect that you’ve developed osteoarthritis. The pain of osteoarthritis usually develops gradually, is made worse by weight-bearing activities, and subsides within 30 minutes of waking up. Touching the affected joint(s) can be quite painful. 
  1. Osteoarthritis of the spine can be serious. Usually, only mild pain and stiffness will be caused by damaged discs or joints in the spine. Some people, though, develop an overgrowth of bone that presses on nerves and results in numbness, pain, and weakness in the arms or legs. In other cases, overgrowth of bone within the spinal canal reduces blood supply to the legs and causes pain after walking. In rare cases, bony growths can compress the esophagus and make it difficult to swallow. 
  1. X-rays don’t always indicate symptom severity. By age 40, many people show osteoarthritis on x-ray, but only about half of them have symptoms. X-rays do not show early osteoarthritis.
  1. Not moving and choosing very soft, padded furniture are two of the worst things you can do for osteoarthritis. When we are in pain, our instinct is to rest on a nice cushiony couch or chair and wait to feel better. Appropriate exercise that strengthens, stretches, and promotes healthy posture is critical in preventing disability. Walking, swimming or bicycling are commonly recommended. Movement therapy, including tai chi and yoga, might reduce pain and improve range of motion. Straight-backed chairs with relatively high seats and firm mattresses are best for most people with osteoarthritis. 
  1. Obesity speeds up the development and advancement of degenerative arthritis, especially in the knees and hips. Interestingly, obesity is even linked to osteoarthritis in joints such as the hands, which are not weight-bearing. The combination of dietary weight loss and exercise results in significant long-term symptom improvement among obese sedentary people with osteoarthritis. 
  1. Some research has shown that antioxidants are beneficial. These antioxidants are found in certain oils, a variety of vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Try to add more green, red, and orange produce to your meals, such as spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, strawberries, and red peppers. This article from Cleveland Clinic provides more tips for upgrading your diet.
  1. Low intake and serum levels of vitamin D might contribute to osteoarthritis. Vitamin D is found in cod liver oil, sardines, tuna, milk salmon, eggs, mushrooms, and fortified margarine. Fifteen minutes of midday sun exposure three times per week in the summer months is enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels among Caucasian adults. 

10. Acupuncture might be helpful for people with osteoarthritis. This therapy triggers a release of chemicals believed to reduce the sensation of pain and lessen inflammation.