*This article was already featured on Medicine.co.uk*
Ever tried to do a quick stance or squat, only to be limited by a sudden sharp pain that leaves you unsure of the cause? Osteoarthritis is one of the biggest global causes of pain and disability. It occurs in varying degrees of severity, but the presentation is usually a sharp sensation of pain and stiffness in the joints. This can be caused by abnormal loading, prolonged loading and trauma (not acute).
When a person has a sudden onset of pain within the joints of the body that increases in intensity with time, it is best to rule out the risk factors of osteoarthritis. The first and most important aspect to look at is the person’s age. Osteoarthritis is a progressive degenerative joint disease that is characterized by focal and progressive breakdown of the joint cartilage. These changes of the joint cartilage cause the forces acting on the joints to become enhanced leading to deterioration of the bony surfaces, tendons and ligaments with varying degrees of inflammation of the joint synovium. Since the degeneration of the joint surface progresses mainly with age, it is often seen in elderly people. However there are an array of factors that leave a person susceptible to the condition, including excessive loading of the joints as seen in obese patients and in people who work jobs that require them to lift heavy objects, or abnormal alignment of anatomical structures as seen in people with knocked knees or bowed legs. Another risk factor includes having pain that leads to compensatory movements and inactivity, as inactivity itself can pose as a serious risk for osteoarthritis.
A diagnosis of osteoarthritis can be established with the help of a radiograph. An x-ray image will show reduced joint space (asymmetrical for bilateral joints e.g the knee), erosion of the joint surface, osteophytes and sometimes, subarticular cysts to indicate osteoarthritis.
The most common radiographic diagnostic tool used is the x-ray imaging. However, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can detect osteoarthritis with an overall high specificity when compared with other reference standards. MRI has the potential for assessing the effect of risk factors for epidemiologic investigations. Also, because the MRI has a high resolution capability, it captures peculiar diagnostic features such as subchondral bone, cartilage and soft tissue structures to better ascertain the structural associations of pain and function in osteoarthritis.
After diagnosis, osteoarthritis should not be ignored. It is important to prevent deterioration of the condition, especially in the early stages, and even in chronic cases, proper management will halt disease progression while also working to improve the quality of life. Whilst pain killers can be used to manage the symptoms, it is recommended that people with osteoarthritis aim to tackle joint stiffness and pain by incorporating structured movements of the affected joints into their daily activities. Alternative approaches to pain management for example, physiotherapy has also proven to be very effective in alleviating the disabling pain of osteoarthritis. In any case, pain or disability must not disrupt activity participation.
The World Health Organization via the International Classification of Function, Disease and Disability highlights the importance of activity participation on the overall health of people living with any form of disability, hence should be considered an integral part of rehabilitation for osteoarthritis.
Living with osteoarthritis? Beat the limitations and keep moving.