Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that results in joint inflammation. It’s caused by the wear and tear of cartilage, the tissue protecting the ends of your bones and joints. OA is the most common form of arthritis and is degenerative, getting worse with age.
Without treatment, chronic pain from OA can lead to other complications and can significantly affect your quality of life.
Common symptoms of OA include:
- pain, tenderness, and stiffness in joints
- loss of flexibility
- bone spurs
- grating sensation of bones rubbing together
Some things put you at a higher risk of getting OA, including:
- Older age: Cartilage deteriorates with age.
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop OA, though it isn’t understood why.
- Being overweight or obese: Extra weight puts more stress on your joints.
- Joint injury: Weak joints are more susceptible to OA.
- Genetics: Some people inherit the tendency to develop OA.
- Bone deformities: Being born with malformed bones or cartilage can increase your risk of OA.
- Certain jobs: Physically demanding jobs or jobs that require repetitive stress on joints can increase your chances of developing OA.
For many people, OA is a source of chronic pain that can be exhausting and debilitating. It can also lead to problems with anxiety and depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Knee OA is a leading cause of disability among adults.
- About 80 percent of people with OA have some movement that’s limited.
- About 25 percent of people with OA can’t perform major activities in their daily life.
In addition to causing pain, there are a number of ways in which OA can impact your life, including:
Achy, tender joints interfere with restful, restorative sleep. Not getting a full night’s sleep can make your pain seem intensified. Stiffness and limited range of motion can also keep you from getting comfortable in bed.
Many people miss multiple days of work per year because of chronic joint pain. Arthritis can also result in a decreased ability to perform normal everyday activities such as:
- household chores
- getting dressed
In general, function can be improved with treatment. However, some people with OA may need assistance with simple day-to-day activities.
Pain and stiffness can decrease your desire to be active. You may stop wanting to participate in activities that used to bring you joy.
Arthritis may cause a decreased ability to exercise or even walk. The lack of activity doesn’t only limit your enjoyment of life — it can cause unhealthy weight gain. Extra weight can then exacerbate OA symptoms, as well as lead to an increased risk of other complications, including:
OA can change cartilage, causing sodium urate crystals to form in your joints. This can lead to gout and acute pain. Your big toe is a common place where gout can occur.
OA can cause calcium crystals to form in cartilage, commonly in your knee. Calcification of joints can make OA symptoms more severe. Sometimes calcium crystals can shake loose, causing a sudden painful attack of arthritis.
Anxiety and depression
This study investigates the link between anxiety and depression and OA, finding that the pain of OA symptoms negatively affect mental health. More than 40 percent of the study’s participants showed increased anxiety and depression as a result of OA symptoms.
Other complications that can arise from OA include:
- bone death (osteonecrosis)
- stress fractures
- bleeding or infection in your joint
- deterioration of tendons and ligaments around joints
- pinched nerve, in OA of the spine
There is no cure for OA, so treatment aims to manage symptoms.
It’s important to control pain while increasing mobility and joint functioning. Physical therapy can help increase mobility. Exercise is key to staying limber and maintaining your weight. But be careful not to overuse your joints and make symptoms worse. Take frequent breaks when exercising.
There are many medications available to relieve OA pain, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Cortisone injections can also be given to relieve pain, and lubrication injections can provide extra cushioning in your joints.
Depending on the severity of your OA, your doctor may suggest surgery to replace entire joints.
Alternative practices can help increase mobility, reduce stress, and improve your general outlook on life. These include:
- tai chi
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease. If left untreated, it’ll get worse with time. Although death from OA is rare, it’s a significant cause of disability among adults.
It’s important to talk to your doctor if OA is impacting your quality of life. Surgery to replace joints may be option, as well as pain medication and lifestyle changes.
Whichever treatment you pursue, reducing your OA symptoms will improve your ability to get around and to have a better quality of life.