Osteoarthritis: symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention

Osteoarthritis is a condition characterised by painful joints. This pain is caused by wear and tear on the cartilage and is often associated with ageing. It can affect your knees, hips or spine (neck osteoarthritis for example) as well as your shoulders, wrists, fingers or ankles. It is the most common condition affecting the joints.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can manifest itself in a number of ways:

  • Pain in one or more of your joints, especially when using them
  • Joint stiffness
  • Sensitivity in your joints to changes in temperature
  • Clicks
  • Formation of small bony outgrowths on your joints
  • Misshapen joints
  • Impaired function in your joints

Causes and mechanism of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is characterised by an abnormal degeneration of the cartilage. Normally, the mechanisms responsible for breaking down and rebuilding cartilage cells take place at the same rate and balance each other out, but with osteoarthritis the destruction process happens faster, which leads to a progressive thinning of the cartilage. Bones, muscles and synovial fluid (which lubricates the joints) are all affected. Small bony outgrowths, called osteophytes, may form on your joints.

There are many possible reasons for this degeneration of cartilage. The cause could be genetic, mechanical or inflammatory, or associated with a lack of physical activity or with being overweight, for example.

A number of risk factors can also increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis. These are mainly genetic, but also include having had repeated injuries (e.g. due to heavy manual labour, or high-impact sports), having another bone or joint condition (e.g. scoliosis), and more general factors such as age and obesity.

Treating osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, so treatment for the condition focuses on relieving the pain. Applying a heat pack to the joint can help with this, and your doctor will be able to prescribe you some painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs. In some cases, he or she may also prescribe corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections. Physiotherapy can also help, as can certain aids. Finally, in rare cases, if the discomfort is unmanageable and the joint is too damaged, you may be offered surgery, which may involve replacing the affected joint with a prosthetic one.

There are also some other, drug-free methods of treating pain, such as the OMRON HeatTens range of pain relievers, which use a combination of soothing heat and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) to relieve joint pain.

Preventing osteoarthritis

To avoid developing osteoarthritis, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular, moderate exercise, avoid placing too much stress on your joints, and try to maintain good posture.


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