Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 30 million Americans. OA is a chronic condition that occurs when joint cartilage (the protective layer that covers the end of the bones) wears down over time. It typically affects everyone to some degree by the age of 80, however, according to the Arthritis Foundation, OA doesn’t just affect older adults, anyone who overuses or injures their joints has a possibility of developing the disease, no matter the age.
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Today, we’re going to discuss the early signs and symptoms, how OA is diagnosed, and the common treatment options, including natural remedies that may help to relive some of the symptoms of the disease.
Early Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of OA typically develop gradually over a period of time rather than show up suddenly. At first, signs and symptoms of the disease tend to “flare up” meaning the symptoms come and go. However, as the condition progresses the symptoms start to become more constant and can start to affect a person’s overall well-being. The most common symptom includes pains and stiffness of the joints. Fingers, neck, lower back, feet, hips, and knees are the most commonly affected.
When the hips, knees, and lower back are affected, it can cause a person to have a limited range of motion, they may hear cracking of the joints and experience swelling. The pain tends to occur after doing an activity or at the end of the day.
Symptoms outside joint pain may include:
- Depression and anxiety: it’s common in people living with chronic pain to experience mental health issues.
- Fatigue: OA can make it hard for a person to get a good night’s sleep leading to extreme tiredness and exhaustion.
- Hyperalgesia or extreme pain sensitivity: a person with OA may be more sensitive to pain because their central nervous system is affected.
How is OA Diagnosed?
There is no specific test that can give an OA diagnoses, but the early signs and symptoms are a good indicator to talk to your doctor. The diagnoses can be made by your doctor based on the characteristics of your symptoms observed by a physical examination. If you’re under the age of 40, your doctor may send you for an X-Ray, although this is not always helpful as OA symptoms do not always correspond with what the X-ray shows. In addition, a blood test is sometimes performed to rule out other disorders.
Common Treatment Options
Currently, there is no cure for OA. However, there are treatments and remedies available to help manage the pain of the symptoms.
One of the best ways to treat OA is to get out and move. While those with OA may think this will cause more pain, it’s the opposite. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there have been studies that show how activities like walking or participating in low-impact fitness classes can greatly reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling. It’s also a good idea to do strengthening exercises, this will help build much needed muscle around the affected areas.
Please note that it’s always important to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Those with OA may be able to get a prescription from their doctor, which will most likely be an anti-inflammatory medicine; which is available as syrups, pills, creams or locations, or even injections.
OA patients may choose to participate in physical therapy. An occupational therapist will be able to help a patient with joint motion through heat therapy. In particular, heating pads or hot packs can help increase blow flow and relax the connective tissue to help increase the body’s range of motion.
They will also be able to provide an OA patient with the assistive devices they’ll need to help function allowing them to be more mobile. These items can include scooters, walkers, canes, orthotics, and more.
There are people with OA that also choose to use natural treatments to treat their pain. This can include:
- Supplements and herbs.
- Vitamins and minerals.
- Therapies such as massage, acupuncture, electrical nerve stimulation, and aromatherapy.