A “Joint” Q & A On the Ins and Outs of Osteoarthritis

Living with osteoarthritis (OA) can be like navigating a maze: You’re going along in (seemingly) the right direction … then you hit a dead end and are forced to take a different path. For the 27 million Americans who live with the complex and evolving condition, figuring out how best to traverse this maze means getting answers. Does having arthritis in your hand mean you will get it in your knees, too? What can you do to slow its progression? 

Q: What is arthritis?
A: There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but OA is the most common, and it’s essentially an inflammation inside the joint.
Q: If you have OA in one joint, does that mean you are more prone to get it in another?
A: Once you have the disease, you are more liable to get the problem in another location than someone who does not have any arthritis. But, which joint, and in what time frame, are not known.

Q: What causes OA?
A: Understanding exactly where OA comes from is a hot topic in the rheumatology world right now, but the general thought is that it comes through wear and tear, but not necessarily just age. OA is a wearing away of the joint structures and the body’s response to this. Obesity is a risk factor for OA, particularly in women, as is overuse of the joints and weakness of the muscles that surround them.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms?
A: Characteristically, this is a slow-onset problem. People may start noticing that they’re doing a certain activity and their knee starts to bother them, or they use their hand a certain way and it gets a little stiff or achy.

Q: How is OA diagnosed?
A: We look for characteristics like joints that get worse as you use them. Arthritic joints may also make noise, grinding like sandpaper because cartilage is no longer smooth, or there can be a bony enlargement on the joint or fluid present. X-rays can be helpful, but there’s more to it. Pain is also a factor, and pain and joint changes can differ for each person.


Q: What does OA treatment typically involve?
A: Physical therapy can help to improve function. But first, most people need to have their pain addressed. They generally start with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Sometimes that’s adequate for them to get around and feel that their joint is doing better. Others may find nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen (Advil and Aleve) helpful.
Physical therapists can provide passive therapies such as hot packs, and, as the individual improves, he or she can move to active therapy, working at getting stronger.

Q: When might joint surgery make sense for someone who has OA?
A: If you have pain that keeps you up at night, even though you’re taking medicine and trying other therapies, it may indicate you’d be a candidate for surgical intervention. Marked instability in the joint—in the hip or the knee—is also an indication. Hip replacement [can be a] beneficial procedure for someone with OA in regard to ability to function.


Q: What can you do to slow the pace of this degenerative condition?
A: Start by making sure your muscles are working. Exercise! This is particularly important if you’re overweight. Get in shape now, not 20 years from now.

Q: What’s the best way to exercise so you don’t do more damage than good?
A: If you run, run on softer surfaces like a track as opposed to unforgiving concrete, with good supportive shoes. Swimming is ideal, especially for those diagnosed with OA who have knee or hip troubles. Or try a stationary bicycle, with the height adjusted so that the rotation of the pedals won’t irritate the hip or the knee. You want to exercise to the point where you’re at an ideal weight, but don’t abuse your joints. It’s hitting the sweet spot.

Q: What advice would you give someone who is newly diagnosed with OA?
A: You really do have a chance to make an impact even after your diagnosis.
We’ve learned from a variety of studies that if you lose five to eight pounds, you can have
a significant impact on OA of the lower leg, particularly the knee. We’re not talking about
losing 50 pounds here. We’re talking about reachable goals.

How Well Do You Know Your Joints?
To learn more about your joints and request educational material,
visit gwinnettjointprogram.com or call 678-312-4170.


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