Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease. It causes pain and stiffness in your joints and affects at least 8 million people in the UK. It’s sometimes called osteoarthrosis, arthrosis or degenerative joint disease. Also known as ‘wear and tear’, it is different from rheumatoid arthritis which can occur at any age. Although osteoarthritis is normally associated with aging, some families are more prone than others to early arthritic changes.
It is very important that you maintain a good range of movement in the affected joints, and that you avoid muscle wasting due to immobility
How it affects your joints
A joint is where 2 or more bones meet. The joint lets your bones move freely but within limits, ligaments allowing a small amount of give, but holding the bones together. When your joint has osteoarthritis its surfaces become damaged and it doesn’t move as well as it should do. In severe osteoarthritis the cartilage lining can become so thin that your bones start to rub against each other and wear away. The loss of cartilage and the wearing of bone can alter the shape of your joint, forcing the bones out of their normal position.
The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are:
- pain, particularly when weight bearing or by the end of the day
- stiffness, especially after static positions like sitting or early morning
- crepitus, a creaking, crunching, grinding sensation when you move the joint
- hard swellings (caused by bony prominences called osteophytes)
- soft swellings (caused by extra fluid in the joint).
Symptoms can change for no obvious reason. Some people find that changes in the weather (especially damp and cold conditions) make the pain worse. Others find the pain varies depending on how active they’ve been.
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, especially if it’s been badly injured. The most commonly affected joints are:
- neck and back
- big toes.
How is it diagnosed?
X-rays are the most useful tests to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, although they won’t often be needed. X-rays may show changes such as osteophytes or narrowing of the space between bones. They’ll also show any calcium deposits within your joint. X-rays aren’t a good indicator of how much pain or disability you’re likely to have – some people have a lot of pain from minor joint damage but others have little pain from severe damage.
There’s no blood test for osteoarthritis but they can be used to rule out other conditions.
There’s no cure for osteoarthritis as yet, but there are a number of treatments that can help ease symptoms and reduce the chances of your arthritis becoming worse.
Spire Wellesley Hospital has a number of senior physiotherapists experienced in the treatment and management of osteoarthritis, in addition to consultant orthopaedic surgeons who can provide a variety of treatments including joint replacements. Having an extensive understanding of how the musculoskeletal structure of the body works allows us to treat joints effectively, but also to advise on how to avoid further problems.
Physiotherapy may include advice and exercises, joint mobilisations, electrotherapy, massage, and acupuncture. Although they will not cure the condition, they can often drastically reduce the symptoms to a manageable level.
It is very important that you maintain a good range of movement in the affected joints, and that you avoid muscle wasting due to immobility. Regular exercises will help to push the need for joint replacements further into the future and, if surgery is required, will enable you to recover more quickly if you already have a good set of muscles for support and fluent movement of the joints.
To book an appointment with one of our specialist physiotherapists at the Spire Wellesley Hospital, please give us a call on 01702 447 904
The Spire Wellesley Hospital also gives you easy access to expert consultants, X-Rays and ultrasound scans, and state-of-the-art MRI and CT scanning facilities.