Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterised by progressive wear and tear of joint cartilage. All joints of the body may be affected. Osteoarthritis most commonly occurs in the knee, hip and shoulder joints (shoulder blade) and in the spine. Damage to the cartilage causes bones to directly rub together and manifests itself in painful joints and a restriction in mobility.
There are different causes for osteoarthritis. The risk of the disease increases along with the patient’s age. Over time, the cartilage covering the joints becomes thin and damaged. Together with the joint fluid, this cartilage is responsible for ensuring smooth motion of the joint in the socket. Excessive strain or strain caused by improper physical movements (e.g. incorrect lifting technique) accelerate the normal ageing process of the cartilage.
Risk factors for the occurrence of osteoarthritis:
- Excessive weight
- Acute injury
- Malformations of the leg (bow legs or knock knees)
- One-sided strain during work
- Severe strain caused by sporting activities
The damaged layer of cartilage causes pain with varying degrees of severity in the affected joint. The disease may often also lead to inflammation, a condition known as active osteoarthritis. This causes people to avoid using the affected joints, which in turn weakens the surrounding muscles and destabilises the joint as a result. As the disease advances, it may also affect the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles.
Typical symptoms of osteoarthritis are:
- Pain when first moving the joint on getting up in the morning or after sitting down for long periods
- Pain when moving the joints
- Stiffness in the joints
- Pain when at rest (inflammation)
- Mobility of the shoulder, arm, knee and back is restricted
Various different examinations are used to diagnose osteoarthritis. The mobility of the affected joints plays an important role and is assessed. X-ray imaging or an MRI is used to determine the extent of the osteoarthritis.
The treatment depends on the severity of the disease and the discomfort felt by the patient. Initially, painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication are used to reduce the symptoms. Targeted exercises help to preserve the person’s mobility and have a positive effect on the progression of the osteoarthritis. The pain often causes people to avoid using the affected joints, which means the joints are no longer moved as much as they should be. Unfortunately this only serves to further restrict the mobility of the joints and exacerbate the osteoarthritis.
If osteoarthritis is already advanced and the pain and loss of mobility are having too great an impact on the person’s everyday life, surgical intervention is then unavoidable. Such operations generally involve fitting prostheses in the form of artificial joints or other implants. More information about these treatment options is available in the Hip prosthesis, Knee prosthesis and Shoulder prosthesissections.
Osteoarthritis can be prevented by regularly moving your joints, but without excessively straining them. Suitable activities that do not strain the joints include swimming, cycling and walking. Malpositions of the leg should be corrected as early as possible.