Your joints hurt. You wake up stiff. You don’t move like you used to. These are common symptoms of osteoarthritis. If you experience them, you’re not alone.
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There are approximately 60 different types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most common by far. This disease affects more than 20 million patients in the United States alone. Fortunately, osteoarthritis is also treatable. You may never be completely pain-free, but you can manage the condition and keep your symptoms at bay.
1. Who gets osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can strike people of any age, but it affects you most as you get older. If you’re in your 70s or 80s, there is a good chance you have it to some degree because of the wear and tear on your joints and cartilage. Before age 55, it seems to affect men and women equally, but women are at higher risk after that. It can strike many different parts of your body, too: hips, knees, shoulders, the neck and the lower back, for example.
Osteoarthritis can affect younger people, too — especially athletes. On top of the natural wear and tear of age, injuries such as ACL tears can play a role.
“There are approximately 60 different types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most common by far.”
Department of Rheumatologic and Immunologic Disease
2. How can you reduce your risk?
Maintaining a healthy weight is a great start. Obesity is a risk factor for osteoarthritis. Extra weight means extra stress on your joints. If you already have osteoarthritis, losing weight can help reduce your symptoms.
A lifelong habit of exercise helps, too. Strong muscles can keep your posture straight and protect the joints from unnecessary damage.
3. How do you know if you have it?
Temporary stiffness is a major symptom. If you wake up with a stiff neck, for example, how long does it last? If it stays with you long into the day, it may be an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis. The stiffness of osteoarthritis typically lasts less than 20 minutes after waking up.
But your pain may get worse as the day goes on. The longer you’re standing and moving on the affected joints, the more likely you are to have symptoms.
4. What treatments work?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen and ibuprofen, as well as prescription options, often help. But your doctor will want to monitor your use closely. These drugs can affect your kidneys and heart over long periods of time.
Steroid injections are another option, but we use those sparingly because of side effects. We’ve also had good results from injectable drugs that contain hyaluronic acid. These drugs reduce inflammation and lubricate the joints. They are FDA approved for knees only now, but approval for use on shoulders and hips may be coming.
Physical therapy is a good option, too. Keeping your body moving — in a safe, appropriate way — can help prevent further wear and tear.
5. What about glucosamine?
Research studies go back and forth about whether glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, a common over-the-counter remedy, really works. In my experience, many patients get pain relief and a better range of motion with this supplement. If a patient is interested, we have them take it for four to six weeks. At the end of that time, if they feel better, we continue it. If they don’t, we stop.
With any and all of these treatment options, you’ll want to consult a doctor first. It’s important to get the diagnosis and dosages right, to monitor side effects — and to make sure you get the right treatment for your unique body and situation.