Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of the bones wears down over time, commonly affecting joints in hands, knees, hips and spine.
Osteoarthritis starts slowly, gradually worsens and no cure exists. An active lifestyle, a healthy weight and other treatments may slow progression of the disease and help improve pain and joint function. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Pain. The joint may hurt during or after movement.
- Tenderness. The joint may feel tender when light pressure is applied to it.
- Stiffness. Joint stiffness is most noticeable in the morning and after a period of inactivity.
- Loss of flexibility. The joint may not be able to move through its full range of motion.
- Grating sensation. You may hear or feel a grating sensation when you use the joint.
- Bone spurs. These extra bits of bone, which feel like hard lumps, may form around the affected joint.
Treatments can help reduce pain and maintain joint movement. Certain medications like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs could help symptoms.
Exercising and achieving a healthy weight are the best and most important ways to treat osteoarthritis. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, braces or shoe inserts and a chronic pain class help in managing pain and providing strategies for reducing and coping with join pain. A doctor will discuss if surgical or other procedures are needed.
Help reduce osteoarthritis symptoms with lifestyle changes and home treatments:
- Exercise like walking, biking and swimming can help build endurance and strengthen the muscles around the joint, making it more stable. If there is a new pain, stop. If the pain lasts for a few hours, it means things were overdone but not to stop exercising altogether.
- Weight loss will relieve some pressure and reduce pain on knees and hips. Many people can combine changes in diet with increased exercise.
- Heat and cold can manage pain the joint. Heat also relieves stiffness, and cold can relieve muscle spasms and pain.
- Over-the-counter pain creams found at drugstores provides temporary relief from osteoarthritis pain. Pain creams work best on joints that are close to the surface of the skin, such as knees and fingers.
- Assistive devices make it easier to go about the day without stressing a painful joint. A cane may take weight off the knee or hip when walking. Gripping and grabbing tools may make it easier to work in the kitchen for those with osteoarthritis in the fingers. A doctor or occupational therapist may have ideas about what assistive devices may be helpful.
For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 35 clinics in 14 counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service. Construction of ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton and ThedaCare Medical Center – Shawano is underway. For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.
By Wendy Buck, APNP, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca