Dr. M.J. Bazos,
Osteoarthritis (OA) is also
called “wear and tear” arthritis or degenerative joint disease.
Osteoarthritis commonly affects the weight-bearing joints of the body such as
the hips, knees, and spine, but it may also affect the hands. In OA, the cushion
on the end of the bone, the cartilage, begins to wear down resulting in pain.
Although the exact cause of OA is unknown, a variety of factors may increase an
individual’s risk of developing OA. In the past, it was believed that OA
developed as an individual got older because the joints “just wore
out.” However, age is just one cause of OA. Obesity, repetitive movements,
and a prior severe injury to a joint can lead to OA. Osteoarthritis of the
fingers develops more frequently in women than in men. Osteoarthritis occurs
more frequently in some families. Osteoarthritis is not an infectious illness.
In other words, you cannot “catch” OA from another individual. A
physician can diagnose OA by obtaining a medical history, performing an
examination of the joints, and ordering x-rays. An x-ray will show that the
joint space (where the cartilage separates the two bones) is narrowed or absent.
The x-ray may also show bone spurs that can be responsible for some of the pain.
Blood tests are usually normal in
Living With Your
Most individuals begin to
notice OA as gradual joint pain and stiffness, most commonly in the hands,
knees, hips, and back. Pain and stiffness usually worsen with activity and
toward the end of the day. Osteoarthritis may also affect the neck and feet.
Pain and stiffness may make it more difficult to perform some daily activities
such as bending at the waist, grasping or reaching for objects, turning the
neck, and walking or climbing stairs. There is no cure for OA; however,
medications, exercises, and assistive devices can decrease the pain and improve
one’s quality of life.
best management of OA is a combination of different treatments. Acetaminophen or
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to decrease the pain and
stiffness. Potential side effects of NSAIDs include stomach upset, ulcers,
constipation, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, difficulty hearing, and a rash.
The NSAIDs should be taken with food. A physical therapist can provide exercises
to strengthen muscles that provide stability to the joints, which may help
decrease pain. Water exercise programs may be particularly beneficial because
the water decreases the stress on the joints. An occupational therapist provides
hand exercises and may discuss ways to do certain activities differently or
suggest an assistive device to avoid pain. Joint surgery such as a hip or knee
replacement may be recommended if the pain is particularly severe and if an
x-ray shows there is no space between the two bones of a
• Take your medication as
• Ask your doctor what
over-the-counter pain medications you may take with your prescription
• Eat a well-balanced
diet and lose those extra pounds if you are
• Perform a
physician-prescribed exercise program, because exercise can decrease the pain of
• Wait to see
whether a side effect from the medication will go
• Overeat and assume a gain of
2 or 3 pounds a year will not affect the pain of
• Continue an exercise program
that causes pain. If pain after exercise continues, it usually means the
exercise needs to be modified specifically for
When to Call Your
• You experience any
medication side effects.
medication and other treatments are not decreasing the
• You believe you may need a
referral to a physical therapist or an occupational