After suffering from stiff, numb, or painful joints for so long that you simply had to see a doctor, you now know that this suffering has been caused by osteoarthritis. Whether you were surprised by this diagnosis or not, finally receiving a diagnosis can be relieving in a lot of ways, simply because you now have a name for your condition. And if you know your condition, you can educate yourself regarding how to manage your health and lifestyle to minimize the impact of arthritis on your life. Here are a few tips.
An Arthritis Primer
Easily the most common form of arthritis, this condition affects nearly 30 million Americans every year. Symptoms can include stiffness and swelling, pain or numbness occurring in the joints. Specifically, arthritis causes the cartilage that connects the bones together to become inflamed. For instance, you may be experiencing stiffness in your wrists and fingers that make it hard for you to perform regular daily tasks such as writing or typing. Or, your lower back may ache so badly that it is hard to get out of bed in the morning.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Your joints are composed of several different structural materials that all work together to allow you to move about your environment, including bones, connected by softer materials like cartilage, and cushioned by a fluid-filled sac called a bursa. Over time, these soft materials can break down due to under use, over use, age, or genetics. As the cartilage and bursa deteriorate, the joints become stiffer and painful, often hindering your movements.
What Joints are Affected?
Arthritis affects your joints, the areas of the body where bones come together and allow movement in one or several directions. Osteoarthritis typically affects the extremities, as well as the lower back, hips and knees. Cases have been reported in the neck, spine, hips, knees, ankles, wrists, and hands. You could experience symptoms in one or several areas of your body. If left untreated, your symptoms could worsen, including more pain and an inability to perform normal tasks.
Advanced Stages of the Disease
In advanced stages of the condition, the cartilage may break down to such a degree that there is bone on bone friction. When this happens, bones may develop spurs or may even fragment or chip off slightly. When the cartilage erodes to such a degree, inflammatory proteins called cytokines are released that cause even further swelling, pain, and damage in the joint.
While you should always follow your physician's instructions regarding treatment, you can often treat your arthritis easily at home through gentle stretching and exercise. If you are overweight, you can ease a lot of the pressure on your joints by engaging in regular low-impact exercise such as swimming, rowing, or cycling to shed pounds and strengthen your muscles and joints. Your doctor may also recommend medications, other therapeutic techniques, or even surgery to repair the tissue in the joint.