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Osteoarthritis – The Disease Behind Sore Joints.

Osteoarthritis is an incredibly common condition that generally occurs, as you get older and involves your joints becoming stiff and painful. Often this interferes with everyday activities and makes it difficult to do things even as simple as getting out of a chair. There is no cure for this condition, however there are many treatments and things that you can do to prevent the disease progressing to a bad stage early on.

How does it do it?

This condition affects the joints, particularly the hips, knees, hands and spine. What happens is that the cartilage, which acts as a cushion at the ends of the bones becomes worn down. Unfortunately your body does not replace this and as such when it is gone one bone rubs on another. Bone has nerve fibers in it that cause pain when in direct contact with another bone; usually the cartilage stops this direct contact. Bone has a tendency to grow and try to fix things when they become damaged. In this condition the bone tries to grow into the spaces where the cartilage once existed, however it grows abnormally and actually makes things worse. Joints usually have smooth surfaces and the bone growing in this abnormal manner can actually make the joint unstable. Although it is true that most people with osteoarthritis are elderly, it is not simply a matter of wear and tear on the cartilage. If you are female, overweight, or have osteoarthritis in your family then you are more likely to get it.

Symptoms?

These usually begin slowly over time and can often come on over many years. Most commonly people complain of pain in one or many joints that can either be constant or begin when the joint is in use. People often feel stiff and this is particularly bad in the mornings and is often combined with the fact that people have problems moving. Such difficulties include activities such as climbing the stairs or hanging your washing. Joints can often feel or look swollen and may make crunchy sounds as you move them. It is also possible that the muscles that surround your joints may feel weak. You should visit your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms and they will be able to order x-rays to tell you what is going on.

Treatments?

There is no magical cure, or any cure for that matter, but there are a number of treatments that can be tried in order to relieve symptoms. Exercise will reduce pain and help you to move more easily especially if you suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee. Swimming, cycling, walking and running are all good activities to participate in. Creams that contain capsaicin may be of some benefit in reducing the pain. Acupuncture is being tried more and more by people suffering from osteoarthritis with mixed results. There is a dietary supplement called chondroitin that has been shown in some studies to help those with disease affecting the knee joint, however don’t expect the results to be amazing. Glucosamine is another supplement that is said to help although the evidence on this is still not convincing either way.

Drugs are an effective way to reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis and paracetamol is the first line drug of choice. This may help you be able to do your everyday tasks by taking away the pain and fortunately this drug has fewer side effects than its alternatives. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) are very effective in controlling pain and swelling within the joints. However they do cause more side effects than paracetamol and as such should not be used everyday. Taking these medications regularly can irritate the lining of your stomach and go on to cause an ulcer. This can go on to cause bleeding in the stomach in some cases. If you do have to take NSAID medication daily then your doctor can prescribe you another drug to protect your stomach lining. This medication works by reducing the acid that your stomach produces. NSAID medications also come in the form of creams and gels and thus can be put onto the affected joint directly. This is a nice idea as it reduces the chance of getting an ulcer, however these tend to be slightly less effective than the tablet form. Surgery is another option and is usually reserved for people with very severe disease. Your doctor will tell you if you fit the criteria and in this case you will be referred for a replacement of the joint in question.

Generally osteoarthritis is a condition that is very slow to progress and in some cases the pain and stiffness can even get better with time. Unfortunately it is very hard to predict how every person’s disease will progress. However those who follow the above advice have been shown to live more active lives for longer.

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