Osteoarthritis: Definition, Symptoms, and Risk Factors
This article was updated on: 09/15/2018
Do you or a loved one suffer from osteoarthritis? Here’s an overview of the condition.
What is osteoarthritis?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is an inflammatory process that causes the cartilage covering the bones to wear down, destroying the protective barrier between bones. This leads to bone-on-bone friction, causing pain, swelling, and joint damage.
Osteoarthritis is a very common condition, especially in those over age 65; the Arthritis Foundation estimates over 27 million Americans are affected by this painful disease.
What are common osteoarthritis symptoms?
Osteoarthritis (OA) tends to be a progressive condition; symptoms of osteoarthritis start gradually and worsen over time. It most often affects the ankles, knees, hips, spine, hands, and feet. The most common osteoarthritis symptoms include:
- Joint pain during and after movement
- Joint tenderness when you touch the affected areas
- Joint stiffness, especially when you wake up in the morning
- Grating sensations when you move an affected joint
- Loss of flexibility when you try to move your joints
- Bone spurs, or hard growths that form around the joints and may cause discomfort and swelling in the fingers
Pain associated with osteoarthritis tends to be worse after certain activities, especially at the end of the day. People with osteoarthritis have a higher risk for falls because of their limited mobility and possible side effects from medications. Losing your sense of balance is also another common osteoarthritis symptom that may make you more vulnerable to falls.
What is osteoarthritis caused by?
In the past, most medical professionals believed that osteoarthritis was caused by the body’s normal wear and tear. However, according to the Arthritis Foundation, experts no longer believe that getting osteoarthritis is an inevitable result of aging; instead, it is viewed as a joint disease, with its own set of causes and risk factors.
The following risk factors have been linked to a higher risk of getting osteoarthritis:
- Genetic factors influence a person’s likelihood of developing OA. For example, certain genes affect the body’s production of collagen (the protein that cartilage is made up of) or may cause your bones to fit together in a way that speeds up the wear and tear of cartilage.
- Being older increases the likelihood of you having osteoarthritis, and the condition is most common in people aged 65 or older.
- Being overweight causes extra stress on the hips and knees, causing the cartilage to break down faster.
- Repetitive use or overuse of a joint can cause arthritis to develop.
- A serious injury, such as a fracture or torn ligament, often leads to later development of OA in the affected joint.
How can I prevent osteoarthritis?
As noted in the osteoarthritis definition, osteoarthritis is a joint disease, and depending on your genetic makeup and lifestyle factors and conditions, it may not be possible to entirely prevent the onset of osteoarthritis. However, there are many things you can do on your own to slow the progression of symptoms and reduce your chances of developing osteoarthritis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, some of the ways you can lower your risk of getting osteoarthritis or delay the onset of osteoarthritis symptoms include:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is one of the leading risk factors for developing osteoarthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, each additional pound of weight gained adds four pounds of stress to your knee joints and increases the stress on your hips and knees six-fold.
- Get regular exercise. The Arthritis Foundation recommends 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week to help strengthen the muscles that support your weight-bearing joints and maintain flexibility. You don’t need an expensive gym membership to exercise; walking, gardening, dancing, even moderate housework benefits your body. The point is to stay active—but remember to listen to your body, too. Start slow and discontinue activities that cause persistent pain. Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime; he or she may be able to recommend types of exercise that may be beneficial for you.
- Control your blood sugar. People who develop diabetes have an increased risk for osteroarthritis because high blood sugar levels promote the production of certain molecules in the blood that stiffen cartilage and make it more vulnerable to stress, worsening the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Diabetes can also cause inflammation that results in cartilage loss.
I hope you now have a better understanding of what osteoarthritis is and some of the ways you can reduce your risk of developing this condition. Would you like more information about preventing the symptoms of osteoarthritis with a wellness program or, if you’ve been diagnosed with OA, managing this condition under Medicare? Some Medicare Advantage plans may cover wellness programs to help you achieve your health goals and stay active.
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For more information on osteoarthritis:
Arthritis Foundation. “Osteoarthritis.” http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/