- You are not destined to develop osteoarthritis in your advancing years. Contrary to what you might believe, osteoarthritis is not caused just by the accumulation of years of joint use. Microscopic changed in the composition of cartilage is what causes osteoarthritis, and although it is the most common joint disorder, many lucky individuals get through life without developing it.
- The development of osteoarthritis is a surprisingly complicated process. First, there has to be an abnormality of cartilage-synthesizing cells. Then, the cartilage may swell from water retention. Eventually, the water-retaining cartilage will soften and develop surface cracks. The tiny cavities that form in the bone lying beneath the cartilage weaken the bone. In some cases, the bone will overgrow the edges of the joint and produce bumps known as osteophytes. Unfortunately, the usually smooth cartilage will become rough and pitted with time, impeding the joint’s movement and ability to absorb impact. Osteoarthritis affects every joint component, including the bone, joint capsule, synovial tissue, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
- 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.
- Osteoarthritis of the spine can be serious. Usually, only mild pain and stiffness will be caused by damaged discs or joints in the spine. Unfortunately, some people 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.
- X-rays don’t always correlate to symptom severity and don’t help detect early osteoarthritis. By age 40, many people show evidence of osteoarthritis on x-ray, but only about half of them have symptoms. X-rays do not show the changes in cartilage that occur early on with osteoarthritis. X-rays often show minor changes in people experiencing severe symptoms and vice versa.
- 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 and is best prescribed by a physical therapist or other accredited fitness professional. Walking, swimming or bicycling are commonly recommended. Movement therapy, including tai chi and yoga, might reduce pain and improve the range of motion for those with osteoarthritis. Straight-backed chairs with relatively high seats and firm mattresses are best for most people with osteoarthritis.
- Obesity significantly accelerates 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. It’s likely that adipokines (cell signaling proteins secreted by fat cells) or the systemic inflammation caused by obesity play a role. A large randomized trial demonstrated that the combination of dietary weight loss and exercise resulted in significant long-term symptomatic improvement among obese sedentary people with osteoarthritis.
- Some, but not all, research has shown that the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids are beneficial to people with osteoarthritis. Carotenoids are found in certain oils, dark green and other brightly colored vegetables, and fruits, including sweet potatoes, dried apricots, carrots, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach, and red peppers. Vitamin C is also abundant in various fruits and vegetables, including red and green peppers, citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi, cantaloupe, and avocado. Vitamin E is relatively abundant in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, including wheat germ oil, almonds, peanut butter, and avocado.
- Low intake and serum levels of vitamin D might contribute to the progression of osteoarthritis. Vitamin D is found in cod liver oil, sardines, tuna, milk salmon, eggs, mushrooms, and fortified margarine. Fifteen minutes of midday sunlight 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 neurotransmitters believed to reduce the sensation of pain and triggers the production of cortisol, a hormone that helps to lessen inflammation. In studies, patients receiving acupuncture feel less pain and enjoy improved functionality.