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What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and is characterized by a gradual loss of cartilage from the joints. As osteoarthritis advances, it causes increasing pain and loss of movement as bone begins to rub against bone. Although OA can affect almost any joint, it most often affects the hands, knees, hips and spine. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, some loss of joint motion, and changes in the shape of affected joints.

OA is strongly associated with the wear and tear on joints during a lifetime, but it is no longer considered a normal part of aging. Studies suggest that the risk of OA is also influenced by other factors, including heredity, obesity, and occupation. A chronic condition, it gradually worsens over time. Osteoarthritis treatments can, however, relieve pain and help you remain active. Taking steps to actively manage your osteoarthritis may help you gain control over your osteoarthritis pain.

What are the risk factors for getting osteoarthritis?

  • Age: Becomes more common in those over 40.
  • Heredity: Familial genetic make-up can increase likelihood of developing OA.
  • Gender: For unknown reasons, women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis.
  • Occupation: Repetitive overuse of individual joints increases risk, as does a history of previous injury or trauma.
  • Weight: Carrying extra weight increases risk, and is the most important modifiable risk factor.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: The lack of physical activity increases risk.

What treatments are available?

Current medical therapies include the use of pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil®) or naprosyn (Aleve®). Topical capsaicin cream (Zostrix®) is beneficial in some patients. The dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin have been shown in some studies to benefit those with moderate to severe OA of the knee. Weight loss can dramatically help the pain and alter the course of OA. Rest, exercise, physical therapy, and heat or cold treatments can be beneficial. Alternative therapies like acupuncture, Tai chi or yoga may help. Some patients will benefit from joint injections, of either cortisone or artificial joint lubricants such as Synvisc®, but the most severe cases may require surgical joint replacements.

What osteoarthritis research studies are being done at BHCCR?

Two areas of primary focus of current research are on medications that prevent cartilage breakdown and on those that relieve the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis. There are some exciting new options and novel approaches for controlling pain and swelling, increasing joint range of motion, and slowing the progression of osteoarthritis. Baptist Health Center for Clinical Research is conducting research on some of these new therapies for osteoarthritis; please contact us if you would like more information.

For more information on osteoarthritis:

The Arthritis Foundation: Osteoarthritis
Mayo Clinic: Osteoarthritis