Getting older is a massive feat, but it's not always fun. You get many valuable memories and experiences, but the bad back and joint pain are complimentary. It can be frustrating not knowing what's causing your pain or what to do about it.
No one likes to admit they have arthritis. Fewer realize there are many different types that require special treatment. The most common is Osteoarthritis.
Knowing what Osteoarthritis is is only half the battle. You also want to know the symptoms, causes, and options for treatment. You should never let something like Osteoarthritis rob you of living life how you want to.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common illnesses that afflict millions globally. While it may get confused with Osteoporosis, they are significant differences. Osteoarthritis or OA affects joints, while Osteoporosis is the deterioration of the bones.
It leads to poor bone health and lower mass and heightens the risks of unexpected fractures. On the other hand, Osteoarthritis impacts the body's joints and cartilage. This happens because of the wear and tear of your joints' protective cartilage.
This often occurs over a longer period of time, especially more so on the joints. This is why it's more common with elderly or ageing patients. It affects a person's hands, wrists, knees, ankles, hips, and spine.
What's worse is that the damage done to your joints isn't reversible using current medicine. That isn't a reason to give up hope, though.
Treatment options are available, and you can still manage symptoms. There's no reason you should let Osteoarthritis impede you from living your best life. By understanding what Osteoarthritis is, you can better know what to expect and how to tackle it.
Is Osteoarthritis an Autoimmune Disease?
This question gets raised a lot, and it's understandable. Osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease. The reason for this confusion is that it gets confused with rheumatoid arthritis.
Arthritis has become a catch-all term for over 100 different conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. It's also one of the more common types of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis doesn't have an immunological component. Feeling your body and joints starting to cause pain and give up on you is frustrating. This is a significant reason for assuming it must be genetic or autoimmune.
What Is the Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types of arthritis. As mentioned earlier, they join a list of at least 100 others. These include rarer ones like lupus and gout.
That said, rheumatoid arthritis is far rarer than Osteoarthritis. It affects about 1/10th of the number of people. With 20% of the Canadian population suffering from arthritis, knowing the differences is essential.
The main differences between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis are the causes. Osteoarthritis is a result of physical wear and tear through activity. Rheumatoid arthritis is a result of an autoimmune disease.
This is where your own body attacks your joints as part of a misguided immune response. There are many other factors at work too, which we will get into later. OA starts later in life, and the aches are smaller and more localized.
In the case of RA joints, it can occur at any time or age, build up fast, and come with more pain and swelling in larger areas. Someone with OA might have soreness or aches in a wrist or a finger joint as they get older. An RA sufferer is more likely to get intense pain in simultaneous joints, such as both wrists.
Most of the causes of Osteoarthritis relate to physical activity and wear and tear. Injuries and trauma can affect and cause the onset of Osteoarthritis in some people. Osteoarthritis happens when your cartilage deteriorates.
Often this happens over time through use and body movement. The job of your cartilage is to cushion your joints and allow them to move with ease. Without this cartilage, your bones would rub against each other, causing damage and more deterioration at the joints.
Many risk factors influence the likelihood of getting Osteoarthritis. These include being older, which increases risk, and your sex. Women are more likely to develop Osteoarthritis than men.
Having your hips and knees support excessive weight increases wear and tear on your joints. Fat tissue also creates certain proteins that lead to joint inflammation. This, in turn, causes further damage to cartilage and joints.
Joint injuries, bone deformities, and repeated joint stress are also factors. Injuries or stress from playing sports or intense physical exertion can increase your risk, even if you healed long ago. Some people are also more genetically susceptible to developing Osteoarthritis.
Metabolic diseases such as diabetes are also key risk factors. Hemochromatosis, or the excessive production of iron, is another one to watch for.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, worsening over time, especially if untreated. The symptoms to look out for most are:
Pain or aching
Decreased range of motion (or flexibility)
You can add more nuanced symptoms like feeling your joints are grating. This could be a sign that your cartilage has worn down to the point where you're feeling the friction of your bones rubbing against each other. Another one that is sometimes difficult to determine is bone spurs.
These usually form around your joints and resemble hard lumps. As the name suggests, they are actual pieces of bone, and they can take years to discover. While they don't always result in pain, they are often linked to Osteoarthritis.
In terms of pain and stiffness as symptoms, these are straightforward. Aches and soreness usually occur while or after moving. Higher than usual levels of stiffness in your joints may follow after periods of inactivity.
Chronic joint stiffness after waking up in the morning is a potential symptom. If, while massaging your joints, you feel pain or tenderness, this is another one. You may also notice swelling or inflammation around the joint, particularly around your knees.
Range of motion and flexibility is also a key indicator. Issues in either regard are good indicators of potential Osteoarthritis. The inabilities to bend, stretch, or twist your body without discomfort or pain are classic signs.
The types of Osteoarthritis and their severity depend on what stage the patient is at. As a degenerative condition, it gets worse slowly, but there is no real cure. However, there are ways to treat symptoms and prevent Osteoarthritis from progressing to more severe stages.
Here are the four major stages of Osteoarthritis are.
What Are the 4 Stages of Osteoarthritis?
There are four stages of Osteoarthritis that most patients will go through. These are minor, mild, moderate, and severe. The length of each stage and how you move between them are different for every patient.
The first stage is minor. At this point, the patient has no pain at all and minor damage to their joints. It's hard even to notice any discomfort at all.
Any soreness or irregularities may happen due to poor sleep, overexertion, or age. None of the chronic symptoms associated with Osteoarthritis are noticeable here. This is the optimal stage to catch Osteoarthritis to prevent further damage, but it's hard to detect.
During the mild stage, occasional stiffness is normal, especially after inactivity. You may feel pain after hard exertion and start to develop bone spurs. This is the stage where most patients often opt for a back or knee brace while doing heavy lifting or hard work.
Rest helps, as does wearing supportive braces for longer periods. It's still possible to slow arthritis down at this stage. Lifestyle changes, stretching, and proper rest can help.
The moderate stage is when a significant number of people start to tackle the possibility of having Osteoarthritis. This is where you first start to notice that your joint cartilage is eroding. Patients also feel and notice the inflammation and discomfort that results.
Pain and symptoms can be daily occurrences. At the moderate stage, patients go to a doctor for answers. They also track their physical exertion levels and avoid movements that trigger joint pain.
The severe stage is the worst-case scenario. At this point, most of a patient's cartilage is gone, and this causes constant inflammation. Bone spurs have also grown large enough to cause intense pain while moving your joints.
Swelling and a constant ache are common, especially after physical activity. At this stage, pain and symptom management are critical, with surgery being an option for those in extreme discomfort.
How to Diagnose Osteoarthritis
Diagnosing Osteoarthritis isn't always straightforward. Your doctor will take age and history into account. This includes the history of injuries, past traumas, and symptoms.
If doctors suspect Osteoarthritis, they have several diagnostic tools at their disposal. The most common are joint x-rays to look for signs of damage, bone spurs, or other irregularities. Doctors may also order a series of tests, including blood work or taking fluid samples from the joints.
These tests could also help rule out other causes for inflammation or swelling. Doctors may also conduct imaging tests if they don't have much to go on as a cause other than general Osteoarthritis. The final major tool is arthroscopy.
This tube with a camera attached is then placed into the space around the joint. Doctors use it to get a visual idea of what's happening, how bad the damage is, and how to proceed.
Treatment options for Osteoarthritis include medication, therapy, and surgery. It's important to stress that a full cure or joint damage reversal is impossible. For this reason, managing and reducing symptoms is the most common course of treatment.
Lifestyle changes are key for preventing Osteoarthritis from getting worse or being more likely to flare up. They can also help stop the onset of the condition itself.
Most medication designed to treat Osteoarthritis comes in the form of pain management. This includes over-the-counter options like Advil, Motrin, or Tylenol.
Most ibuprofen and acetaminophen options don't require a prescription. However, a doctor might prescribe you something stronger. Steroid injections might help with swelling and inflammation caused by Osteoarthritis.
You may also opt for nonsteroidal options. These come in the form of topical and non-topical options. There are many nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that require prescriptions.
Voltaren, Lodine, Daypro, Mobic, and Feldene are examples. There are even NSAID creams like diclofenac.
Changing your habits can make a big difference. Weight loss, proper diet and nutrition, and exercise can improve your condition. Other treatments involve physical therapy, stretching, and using orthoses or braces.
Canes can help alleviate pressure or weight off of weak joints. Changes to your home to make movement a little easier are also worth considering.
Surgery is the last resort for those with severe pain from advanced Osteoarthritis. If nothing else seems to be helping, there are three main types of surgical procedures that could help.
The first is realignment surgery. This procedure aims to realign the bones or joints that became crooked as a result of severe Osteoarthritis.
The second type is fusion surgery. This is usually done if replacing the joint isn't feasible. It stops the pain of bones grinding on each other – at the expense of flexibility.
The last is joint replacement, which replaces the affected joint with a prosthetic. While this can provide immediate relief, it can also come with longer-term side effects. It isn't uncommon to require a follow-up treatment or even full replacement every ten years.
Whichever surgery you go with, know that they come with complications. The risk of infection, blood clots, or cracked bones is not insignificant. Always consider all of your options with your doctor first.
Do Provincial Health Care Plans Cover the Cost of Osteoarthritis Treatment?
The great thing about Canadian healthcare is that the government will foot the bill if you're hospitalized. However, when it comes to your care at home or the clinic, you'll need to rely on provincial health care plans. The issue is different provinces have different ideas of coverage.
The federal government mandates that every province should fund Medicare. However, it's up to each province to decide how much over the minimum they want to fund.
Most step up to provide funding for things like dental, vision, or physiotherapy in addition to what's required of them. That said, they get to choose who qualifies for this extra funding.
This is often reserved for seniors, children, and vulnerable groups. This includes people with financial insecurity. Check with provincial health authorities for an idea of what to expect.
Seeking Help for Your Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can be crippling. Knowing what it is and your options helps you fight back and live your best life. The key to this is seeking help for treatment, management, and medical expenses.
Medical insurance is important, as is knowing the fine print of our service before you use it. Insurdinary cares about your health and wellness. We have a number of health insurance plans that could help you deal with Osteoarthritis, so get in touch with us today to learn more.
Insurdinary provides these articles for educational purposes only. Please take a moment to read our disclaimer.