Expert Health Articles

Living with Osteoarthritis

James Davidson, MDJames Davidson, MD

Blanchard Valley Orthopedics & Sports Medicine

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 30 million Americans. Osteoarthritis frequently occurs in the hands, hips and knees. It is a degenerative joint disease also known as “wear and tear” in the joints. Osteoarthritis is caused by damaged cartilage tissue between bones and it usually develops slowly and gets worse over time. This may result in disability of one’s ability to perform daily activities. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain or aching of joints, stiff joints, swelling and decreased range of motion. Risk factors include older age, gender (women are more likely to develop it than men), obesity, genetics and having a joint injury. X-rays and lab tests are used to diagnose osteoarthritis. Staying physically active and watching your weight are two key strategies to prevent osteoarthritis. Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times per week is recommended for optimal joint health. A healthy body weight will reduce the amount of strain on weight bearing joints, such as knees and hips, and losing weight can help reduce pain and disability.

Physicians use conservative treatments first to manage osteoarthritis. Conservative treatment may include using a brace or a cane, medication, physical therapy or injections (steroids or viscosupplementation). In some cases, osteoarthritis is so severe that it can limit function, cause disability and may even require joint replacement surgery. Pain or grinding within joints is common among surgery candidates. Joint replacement surgery is an option for people that have not found relief with other treatment options. The determination of whether joint replacement is the right decision for you should be a shared decision by you, your primary care physician and orthopedic surgeon.

The main goals of joint surgery are to restore function of the joint and to regain the joint’s range of motion. Prior to surgery, patients should quit smoking, lose weight if needed, maintain good nutrition, control blood sugar if diabetic, stay active and attend a joint replacement class. Joint replacements are made of metal, ceramic, plastic and biological cement and last between 20 to 25 years. Most activities can be resumed three to six months after surgery, these include biking, bowling, playing golf, gardening, walking and water aerobics, but patients should avoid high impact activities immediately following surgery.

Those considering joint replacement surgery should first meet with their primary care physician or orthopedic surgeon to discuss care options.