Osteoarthritis currently affects 20 million Americans and this number is expected to rise to 40 million by the year 2020.  Osteoarthritis is seen in 35% of knees by the age of 30 years and 85% of people aged 70 to 79 years.  Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is one of the most common types of arthritis that is characterized by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage.  Cartilage is the part of the joint that cushions the ends of the bones and when breakdown occurs, bones rub against each other causing pain and loss of motion in that particular joint.  The most common areas affected in the body are the feet, knees, hips, hands, and low back.  There are different factors that contribute to the development of arthritis.  Some risk factors include aging, obesity, genetics, and joint injuries due to sports, work, or accident related injuries.


It is important to get early diagnosis and know how to avoid the stresses that can cause the symptoms of osteoarthritis to progress.  Early diagnosis and treatment can often mean less joint damage and less pain.  Symptoms to recognize that are associated with osteoarthritis are loss of range of motion in a joint, pain in a joint that may be increased with certain activities, stiffness and pain in a joint, especially the knees with prolonged sitting, and swelling in a joint.  When weight bearing joints are affected, you need to avoid activities that increase the load in those joints and will increase stress to the weight bearing area.  If the knees are affected, repeated deep knee bending or squatting, stair climbing, and kneeling need to be avoided.  These activities increase the load through the knee joint and will cause increased pain which will lead to a loss of range of motion.  Avoiding these activities will allow a more functional lifestyle that will allow you to perform more of your functional activities on a daily basis.  Exercise in the form of stretching and strengthening the muscles around the affected joint will also help maintain stability around that joint, lessen pain, and help you maintain endurance in activities as well.  Strength and flexibility are critical components in maintaining an active lifestyle with osteoarthritis.  Also, performing exercises that are non-weight bearing, such as bicycling and swimming will help decrease stress on the affected joint.


Another form of treatment is diet.  A diet rich in Vitamin C and other antioxidants, as well as calcium will help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis and its progression.  Also, loosing weight will help decrease the load of weight bearing in a joint affected.  In normal walking, the weight bearing load through the knees are .5 times your body weight and that increases with stair climbing to 3.3 times your body weight and 7.5 times your body weight with deep squats.


Other forms of treatment of osteoarthritis include different surgical techniques to help restore function in the affected joint.  Hylagan, Synvisc, and Supart shots are a popular form of treatment in more moderate cases of osteoarthritis in the knee.  These shots help are used to relieve pain and act as a shock absorber and lubricant for the knee.  Partial knee replacements are also used when only 1 area of the knee joint is affected with arthritis.  When the condition progresses in the knee and affects 2 to 3 major areas of the knee joint, then the only alternative is a total joint replacement.  If you feel that you may be suffering from osteoarthritis and its symptoms, contact your physician or physical therapist.  They can help you in the diagnosis of your condition and management of your symptoms.