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OA – The “Wear and Tear” Arthritis is Manageable

Some Quick Facts:

  • There are more than 100 types of arthritis and OA leads the list with the highest prevalence. 

  • According to the CDC and others, approximately 32.5 million adults in the U.S. suffer from Osteoarthritis.

  • Statistics vary but OA most commonly affects those over 45 years of age.

  • OA is more common in women (approximately 62%) except in the 45 and under sector, it is more prevalent in men.

  • Whether you call it Osteoarthritis, “wear and tear” arthritis, or simply OA, the truth is it hurts. The pain associated with OA can be debilitating. 

So, what is OA?

This most common type of arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that primarily affects adults over the age of 45 but also may appear in younger people who have had previous joint injuries. While age and injury may be the leading causes, other contributing factors include overuse, obesity, musculoskeletal abnormalities, muscle weakness, genetics and gender with women more prone to OA than men.

OA can affect any joint but most commonly it impacts the hips, knees, neck, back and fingers. Why? All tissues of the joint are subject to damage - bone, cartilage, synovium (connective tissue lining the joint capsule) and ligaments. When bony formations, or osteophytes, run against other tissues, it can cause pain, stiffness and restricted mobility. It may visibly appear to deform the joint. Thickening of the synovium leads to swelling and inflammation while when tissues supporting the joint become stretched, this leads to instability. 

The result: Pain that more often than not is severe, leading to the avoidance of even the most routine daily activities and this lack of mobility leads to muscle weakness. The irony: One of the ways to manage OA symptoms is physical activity. 

The dangers associated with OA

The pain, reduced mobility and factors associated with OA are not isolated to bones and joints; they may have other consequences. It can also lead to obesity, which in turn increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The muscle weakness that comes from reduced activity, and even the dizziness and other side effects of medications used to manage OA, can contribute to a greater likelihood for falls.

But the pain is more than physical. Research has shown the reduced activity that accompanies OA can impact mental health and lead to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. Social isolation and limitations at work are also frequent results. 

It’s not all bad news

Although there is no cure for OA, it can be managed to minimize pain and maximize mobility, function and overall quality of life. This is accomplished through various means – over-the-counter and/or prescribed medications, injections, exercise, joint replacement surgery and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Physical therapy plays an important role in all of the non-drug interventions used to treat OA. PTs are experts in patient education when it comes to safe and effective movement techniques to protect the joint, appropriate exercises to strengthen and stabilize it and pre- and post-surgical management of joint replacements. 

They also can offer guidance on ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a wholesome diet and controlling blood sugar. The need to keep moving cannot be understated as this helps maintain range of motion with gentle stretching, walking and other prescribed exercises – all the while listening to your body, protecting joints and never pushing too hard. 

Last but not least, find ways to relax. Whether you enjoy meditation, listening to music or spending time with family and friends, these are all ways to reduce stress and take care of your emotional well-being, too.

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