Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterised by progressive wear and tear of joint cartilage. It can affect all the joints in the body, however it most commonly occurs in the knee joints, hip joints, shoulder joints and the spine. Osteoarthritis is often caused by excessive physical strain, or strain caused by incorrect joint movements.
The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with old age. Over time, the cartilage covering the joints becomes thin and damaged. Together with the joint fluid, this cartilage is responsible for the 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 joint cartilage. Excessive body weight, malformations of the legs (bow legs or knock knees), one-sided strain caused by work or heavy strain caused by sporting activities are all risk factors for the development of osteoarthritis.
The damaged layer of cartilage causes pain in the affected joint. Common symptoms include pain when the joint first starts moving after waking up in the morning or after sitting down for long periods of time. If the osteoarthritis continues to progress, it can eventually restrict the person’s mobility. The affected joints often also become inflamed – this is known as active osteoarthritis. People with this type of osteoarthritis typically experience pain even when they are not moving their joints.
Various different examinations are used to diagnose osteoarthritis. The mobility of the affected joints is assessed and x-ray imaging or an MRI is used to reveal the extent of the osteoarthritis.
The treatment depends on the severity of the disease and the level of pain and discomfort. Initially, pain killers 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 the osteoarthritis is already very advanced and the pain and loss of mobility are having too great an impact on the person’s everyday life, then surgical intervention is unavoidable. Such operations generally involve the integration of artificial joints or other implants. More information about these treatment options is available in the hip prosthesis, knee prosthesis and shoulder prosthesis sections.
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. Leg malformations should be corrected as early as possible.