In this article:
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most prevalent form of arthritis and is caused by the gradual degeneration of joints.
- Osteoarthritis is a progressive disorder, which means its severity tends to worsen with age.
- This kind of arthritis can affect people of all ages and gender but is common in older adults and women.
- Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint of the body but majorly targets the frequently used and weight-bearing joints.
- Although there is no permanent medical cure for this condition, its symptoms can be managed through a holistic treatment strategy that includes medication, physical therapy, lifestyle changes (exercise and weight management), and proper diet.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disorder that targets every structural component of the joint. To say that OA causes wear and tear of the joints would be an overly simplistic representation of this condition, which involves:
- The progressive breakdown of the cartilage tissue that cushions the ends of your joint bones as well as the tendons and ligaments in the affected joint
- Bone deformity in the affected joint
- Inflammation of the synovium or joint lining
Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 different types of joint disorders, both inflammatory and non-inflammatory. OA is the most common form of arthritis, which usually affects people in the age group of 40 to 60. The joints most frequently affected include the hands, hips, and knees. (1)
The widespread prevalence of OA can be gauged from the figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which state that more than 32 million adults are diagnosed with this condition in the United States alone. (2)
While OA occurs more frequently in middle-aged and elderly populations, this condition is not limited to any specific age group. In fact, this condition can begin as early as childhood, although the incidence of OA in children is still relatively rare.
In children and younger people, this condition is generally secondary, which means that it is set off by a preexisting injury, infection, or congenital disability. Young adults, in particular, tend to suffer this kind of joint degeneration at the site of a previous injury.
What Joints are Affected By Osteoarthritis?
OA can damage any joint in the body, but the frequently used and weight-bearing ones are the most commonly affected.
The prime targets of OA include the joints in the hands, fingers, and neck as well as weight-bearing joints such as those in the lower back, hips, knees, and feet. Injury to the joint can further speed up the degeneration of the skeletal tissue.
Your knees carry the load of your entire body, making them especially prone to degeneration. Most people with OA experience pain and stiffness in their knees, which tend to get aggravated during or after a lower limb movement.
Knee osteoarthritis can be quite debilitating as it can greatly limit your ability to walk.
The large joints in the hips can develop OA, which is accompanied by radiating pain that can be felt not just in the buttocks but also in the front of the thigh, lower back, or groin area.
In some cases, pain in the hip region is mistaken to be a symptom of OA when, in fact, it stems from some other condition. This is known as referred pain, and you will need a proper medical evaluation to trace it back to its source.
3. Back and neck
OA can target the joints in your lower back and neck, leading to the characteristic symptoms of pain and stiffness in the affected area. As a lot of possible causes can trigger back or neck pain, you need a proper diagnosis by a doctor to be sure.
4. Hands, feet, and ankles
OA can affect different joints in the foot, but most people experience symptoms at the base of the big toe and the middle section of the foot. The ankles tend to suffer the least damage.
Women are most affected by OA of the hands, usually when they are nearing the age of menopause.
The constant jaw movement while talking, yawning, and eating can wear away the smooth cartilage in the temporomandibular joint, leading to the onset of jaw OA.
Can You Reverse Osteoarthritis?
OA is more or less a lifelong ailment with no known medical cure, but there are things you can do to reduce the severity of its symptoms and delay its progression.
Thus, it may be possible to improve some of the symptoms caused by OA gradually, but only to a certain degree depending on the cause and severity.
You can maintain or improve joint function through proper medication, physical therapy, diet, and lifestyle changes, but the problem may not go away completely.
Surgical treatment can reverse the OA in certain cases in the right candidate.
How Does Osteoarthritis Progress?
OA tends to worsen gradually, at times, to a point when it becomes severely debilitating. When the condition is in its initial stage, the patient will most likely experience the OA-induced pain during and after joint activity, but typically not otherwise.
As the condition progresses to a more advanced stage, it can affect joint motion and use of the affected joint and limb.
The progressive deterioration of the joint tissue and bones can cause difficulties in moving the joint and carrying out everyday tasks.
Even the slightest activity can aggravate the joint pain, which may be present while you are in a resting position if the condition becomes particularly serious.
The pain can be accompanied by swelling and tenderness that can further hamper joint motion and function.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Although OA can manifest differently in different people, it is generally associated with the following symptoms:
- Stiffness and tenderness in the affected joint
- Joint pain, which typically is triggered or worsens with movement
- A crackling sound (crepitus) while moving
- Visible swelling of the joint
- Bony protrusions (osteophytes) around the affected joint
- Reduced function and mobility in the arthritic joint
- Decreased range of motion (flexion/extension) in the affected joint
- Muscle weakness around the affected joint, especially in the knee
- Joint deformity, which means that the affected joint eventually can become enlarged and/or malaligned
Types of Osteoarthritis
OA is broadly classified into two types:
Primary osteoarthritis: Most cases of OA fall in this category whose defining characteristics are, it is idiopathic and not set off by any condition.
While the cause behind this kind of joint degeneration remains unidentified, several factors can predispose you to this condition. Primary OA largely affects middle-aged and elderly populations.
Secondary osteoarthritis: This kind of OA is relatively less common and usually has an early onset. Thus, it is more common in children and young adults.
Secondary OA gets its name from the fact that it typically stems from an underlying infection, injury/trauma, prior surgery, underlying systemic disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis), underlying metabolic disorder, or congenital deformity. (3)
Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis
To diagnose OA, your doctor will first inquire about your symptoms and perform a physical examination (1). This is to determine the severity of the condition that may manifest with the following signs:
- Bony swelling at the affected site
- Tenderness over the joint
- Joint instability
- Crackling, popping, or grating sounds (crepitus) coming from the arthritic joints
- Presence of excess synovial fluid
- Limitations in range of motion
- Joint weakness
Your doctor may use a few additional diagnostic tests to understand the extent of joint damage and rule out other possible causes of your joint pain. These tests include:
- An X-ray of the joint to detect any bony changes or other problems that may be responsible for your pain
- Blood tests to eliminate the possibility of other forms of arthritis
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to reveal the state of the cartilage and tendons and even show signs of fluid retention (edema) in the subchondral bone
Causes of Osteoarthritis
The human body contains hundreds of joints that serve as essential links between different bones. Without joints, the entire skeletal system would be rendered immobile.
Joints can differ slightly in terms of their structure and material composition, but they are largely classified into three categories:
- Fibrous joints are completely immobile as they are filled with fibrous connective tissue with no space for movement.
- Cartilaginous joints are held together by a tough but flexible connective tissue called cartilage that allows little movement.
- Synovial joints contain a cavity between the connecting bones. The cavity is filled with a lubricating fluid that reduces friction between the adjoining bones and allows painless, unhindered joint movement.
The most movable joints are also most prone to damage, which is why synovial joints are the worst affected by OA. The ends of the bones inside the joint are covered by protective padding of cartilage that allows them to glide easily against one another.
OA occurs when there is a gradual breakdown of this smooth cushioning, which triggers increased friction between the articular surfaces whenever the joint is moved.
The wearing away of the cartilage exposes the frayed, rough surface of the underlying bone and makes joint motion increasingly painful.
Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis
- Genes: If your family members have OA, you are more likely to develop OA. Besides, those who have hand OA are more likely to develop knee OA. (1)
- Obesity: Excessive bodyweight can exert increased pressure and stress on the knees and other weight-bearing joints such as the hip, which is why obese and overweight people are more prone to OA. Obesity may also have metabolic effects that increase the risk of OA.
- Injury or overuse: Severe or repeated trauma to a joint can set the ground for OA. This kind of joint degeneration can occur due to a joint injury or prolonged overuse or misuse of the affected joint.
- Infections: Several bacterial, viral, and other pathogenic threats that can infiltrate the joint and cause an infection and internal joint damage, which may lead to secondary OA.
- Occupation: If your job requires you to overuse a joint or perform repetitive activities (such as knee bending and repetitive stress on a joint), the continuous pressure and friction can damage the joint and lead to the onset of OA.
- Cigarette smoking: Smokers are at a higher risk of developing OA than non-smokers, and smoking can make OA even more serious in people who already have it. (4)
- Gender: Women are more prone to OA than men. (5)
- Age: The likelihood of developing OA increases with age.
Additional risk factors for OA include:
Treatment for Osteoarthritis
OA has no medical cure. Thus, it typically requires long-term management of joint pain and inflammation, primarily through non-surgical means. Thereafter, surgery can be considered if all the preliminary measures fail to provide relief.
Non-surgical treatments, medications, injections
The mainstay treatment for OA includes the following non-surgical interventions: (7)
- Education on disease and treatment
- Weight loss for overweight patients
- Exercise and strengthening for people capable of exercise (low-impact aerobic exercise programs such as walking, cycling, and swimming or other aquatic exercises).
- Exercises to strengthen the quadriceps, leading to reductions in pain and improvements in function, for lower extremity OA
- Physical therapy for range-of-motion exercise, muscle strengthening, muscle stretching, and soft tissue mobilization
- Braces and orthotics for those with joint instability and malalignment of the joint(s)
- Appropriate supportive footwear for lower extremity OA
Medications that can be considered for pain relief include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are available in topical, oral, and injection formulations.
In addition, a whole range of topical non-prescription (i.e., over the counter) pain relievers, such as capsaicin, are available.
Note: Please consult your physician before starting any medication as safety is paramount when using any prescription or non-prescription medication.
There is a wide variety of data on supplements, such as glucosamine compounds, for OA. Glucosamine and chondroitin seem to have the same benefit as a placebo, and there is controversy over whether they also have structure modifying benefits. (33)
But they are purported to slow the progression of cartilage degeneration while accelerating the regeneration of new joint tissue. This may help decrease the intensity of OA-induced pain and improve the mobility of the affected joint. (33)
Caution: Narcotic pain relievers, such as compounds containing hydrocodone or oxycodone, are no longer recommended for managing chronic arthritic pain.
Injections directly into the joint with corticosteroids or viscosupplements also have supporting research data and can be considered for short-term relief from OA.
Again, these treatments should always be discussed with your physician before proceeding to make sure they are right for you.
Surgery is the last resort for OA treatment and is only considered when the condition goes beyond the purview of optimized physical and medical therapy.
The primary indications for surgery are:
- Debilitating pain
- Major limitation of function such as walking and daily activities
- Impaired ability to sleep or work
A number of surgical interventions can help repair joint damage and deformity or, in extreme cases, replace the joint altogether. (8)
If the joint degeneration can be reversed, the doctor will opt for a minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery, although this remains somewhat controversial.
This surgery involves inserting a fiber-optic tube with an attached camera inside the joint through small incisions. The camera allows the doctor to visualize the extent of damage and then surgically correct it.
In one well-designed placebo surgery trial, improvement in the symptoms was largely attributed to a placebo effect. However, for a subgroup of knees with loose bodies or flaps of meniscus or cartilage that are causing mechanical symptoms, especially catching or locking of the joint, arthroscopic removal of these unstable tissues may improve joint function and alleviate mechanical symptoms. (7)
The need for joint replacement only arises in the case of irreparable damage that cannot be addressed through any other measure.
Some commonly used surgical procedures for OA include:
- Fusion (arthrodesis): This procedure aims to fuse two or more bones together inside the joint and is often used for relieving the unmanageable pain and stiffness caused by OA.
Deformed or unstable joints can be fixed using this method when all other normally indicated interventions are unsuccessful.
- Osteotomy: Osteotomy is a procedure in which the bones that meet inside the joints are cut and reshaped to make them align comfortably. This operation may be done to shorten or lengthen the bones to enable pain-free movement.
- Joint replacement (arthroplasty): The primary indications for this surgery are severe daily pain and x-ray evidence of narrowing of the joint space. In the appropriate patient, good to excellent results can be expected in 95% of cases. (7)
Care after surgery
Post-operative care is extremely important to rehabilitate the joint after surgery. The doctor will advise necessary precautions to protect your joint from any potential injury and make you follow a specially designed rehabilitation exercise program to restore muscular and articular function in the joint.
The same exercises may not work for every patient, and the rehabilitation regimen may differ from case to case. Deciding which exercise to include in the program depends on the following factors:
- Type of surgical procedure
- Site of incision
- Size of incision
- Depth of the lesion
- Age of the patient
- Medical condition
In the initial days after surgery, you are expected to do the necessary exercises under the supervision of a physiotherapist (physical therapy).
It is the job of the physiotherapist to teach you the exercises through regular practice so that once you are discharged, you can continue doing them at home.
He/she will make you take ownership of your own health, and it is imperative that you do not break with the program midway.
In addition to the rehabilitation program, several foods can help facilitate the healing process and reduce the pain and inflammation triggered by OA.
Ask your doctor about what foods to include and what foods to exclude from your diet, as what you eat can have a significant impact on not just your recovery but also future flare-ups of OA symptoms. (9)
Living with Osteoarthritis
There are several things you can do to help manage OA.
People with OA are bound to suffer from pain and stiffness in their joints, which can make movement quite difficult. For this reason, a lot of people make the mistake of avoiding any kind of physical activity or exercise, fearing that it might exacerbate their condition.
On the contrary, leading a sedentary life will diminish your muscle strength and render your joints stiffer than before.
While rigorous or heavyweight exercises are to be avoided, it is important to practice light stretching and strengthening exercises regularly to keep your joints limber.
Customize your exercise regimen according to the severity of your condition, preferably under the guidance of your doctor and physiotherapist.
Besides building your overall endurance, restoring joint mobility, and strengthening the muscles around the joints, a carefully designed exercise plan can also inhibit OA progression by suppressing inflammation and catabolic activity while improving anabolic activity and maintaining metabolic homeostasis. (10)
According to recent systematic reviews, exercise therapy that includes a mix of muscle-strengthening, flexibility, and aerobic exercises are preferred over general physical activity to address the pain and disability associated with OA. (11)(12)(13)(14)
Here are a few exercise options to help manage OA:
- Do 30 minutes of aerobic exercises, such as walking, biking, or swimming, at least five times a week.
- Try gentle weight training and resistance training, few times a week to enhance your muscle strength.
- Give 30 minutes of your day to range-of-motion exercises to retain the flexibility in your joints.
Note: People with OA should refrain from participating in high-impact sports to avoid the risk of injury.
2. Weight management
Maintaining a healthy weight helps deter the onset or progression of OA by reducing various mechanical and biological stressors. People who are obese or overweight are inherently more prone to joint damage, as the body load falls on the skeletal junctures.
When it comes to excessive bodyweight, the joints in your lower limbs bear most of the brunt, which can progressively impair your ability to walk or even stand. In such cases, weight loss becomes crucial for improving physical functioning and overall quality of life, without which your condition may advance to a state of physical disability. (15)
Weight loss can help relieve the pain and other discomforts associated with OA by reducing the burden on your joints. The reduction of excess body fat through proper diet and physical activity is especially helpful for people with arthritic knees but is recommended for most overweight patients with OA. (16)(17)(18)
3. Warm and cold compresses
Heat and cold therapy are commonly used for managing a wide array of pain disorders, either separately or alternatively. Both these treatments have their own mechanism for easing pain, and you can try each of them to see which one suits you the most.
Hot treatment involves the application of gentle heat to the affected joint to dilate the underlying blood vessels, enhancing the flow of oxygenated blood to the affected tissue.
The increased blood supply brings more nutrients to the affected site and takes away the metabolites that are responsible for triggering pain.
Using a warm compress is the most preferred form of heat therapy for reducing the joint pain and stiffness caused by OA.
When you apply the compress over the joint, the heat penetrates through the skin to relax the tense muscles underneath. Heat also improves the laxity of connective tissue, further improving the range of motion in the joint.
Moreover, topical warmth can help inhibit the transmission of pain signals to the brain by activating certain receptors in the skin.
Cold therapy, on the other hand, works by shrinking the underlying blood vessels to limit the flow of blood to the joint area. The reduced blood supply helps reduce the swelling in the affected area.
Cold compress is generally used to bring down joint inflammation rather than to improve the flexibility of the joint.
The cold application also helps numb the area temporarily, making you feel less pain. This is because the cold travels through the skin to reduce nerve activity in the area and thereby delays the transmission of pain signals to the brain. (19)
4. Massage therapy
Massage therapy, if done properly, can help relax both your body and mind. It stimulates blood circulation in the affected site and releases muscle tension to improve joint mobility. Thus, massage can be a useful complementary tool for addressing the aches and pains associated with OA.
To prolong and enhance the therapeutic effects of heat or cold treatment, you can follow it up with a gentle massage of the painful muscles and joints.
A 2019 randomized clinical trial highlighted the success of massage therapy for patients with OA. The study found it to be a safe and effective short-term treatment option, particularly for people with knee OA. (20)
But for massage therapy to engender the desired effect, it must be done correctly, or else it can aggravate your condition. You must always use gentle hand motions when massaging the arthritic joints.
If you are not confident about the proper technique, you can get it done by a licensed therapist at a spa. Please consult your physician to make sure massage therapy will be safe and effective for you.
Additionally, certain analgesic oils can be massaged into the skin for greater symptomatic relief. Peppermint and other mint oils are some of the best options as they contain menthol, which is recognized as a topical counterirritant.
You can also use menthol-containing gels or sprays to massage the arthritic joints. The cooling property of menthol can be attributed to an organic compound called terpene found in it. When applied to the skin, menthol has a mild anesthetic effect, which can relieve your pain for a short duration.
Menthol decreases nerve activity and the transmission of pain signals. Also, the cooling effect can restrict blood flow to the joint tissue and thereby reduce swelling. (21)
5. Assistive devices and orthotics
Doctors often recommend assistive devices to patients OA. These devices mainly serve two purposes:
- Reduce the stress on your joints
- Protect your joints from further damage
Both these factors are important not just for relieving the symptoms of OA but also for slowing the progression of joint degeneration. A whole range of assistive devices are helpful for patients with OA.
Since OA majorly targets the knees and can make walking increasingly painful, you can use a cane or a crutch for body support. This way, you can shift your bodyweight onto the walking aid instead of exerting it on your knees.
Your doctor may advise you to wear tape, braces, or splints over the affected joint to hold it in a proper position. These medical tools divert the bodyweight away from the damaged joint and protect it from further injuries.
Although braces are often recommended by doctors to improve the mobility and function of arthritic joints, there isn’t enough research-based evidence to conclusively establish the effectiveness of these assistive devices. (22)(23)
6. Occupational therapy
Occupational therapy is a multifaceted treatment that helps people with physical, cognitive, or sensory impairment to regain full control over their daily lives. This kind of supportive care is rendered by trained specialists who identify the strengths and weaknesses of individual patients and then design a rehabilitation plan accordingly.
OA is a disabling ailment that can make it very difficult for you to perform even the simplest everyday activities. Even the most minor joint movement can trigger excruciating pain in severe cases, which can push you toward an increasingly sedentary life.
Staying inactive has repercussions as it ends up immobilizing or stiffening your joints even further. To keep your condition from worsening and to improve your joint function, you should consider going to an occupational therapist while the arthritis is still in its early stage.
Occupational therapy involves a combination of different treatment interventions to maximize the flexibility of the joints, from rehabilitation exercises to the performance of everyday tasks.
The idea is to accustom you to physical activity so that you do not find it hard to carry out your daily tasks. This helps you maximize your ability to participate in activities safely and enhance your quality of life.
The therapist also teaches several useful self-help techniques to the patients to help them cope better. (24)
Hydrotherapy combines the double benefits of heat treatment and light resistance exercise, both of which can help relieve the pain and stiffness in your arthritic joints.
This water-based treatment gives your joints a much-needed workout with minimal risk of injury. It is considered safer than land-based exercises, which often lead to falls and accidents.
This intervention is usually recommended for elderly patients, as it enables them to exercise their joints without risking an injury.
The therapy essentially involves performing some gentle form of exercise in an aquatic setting. The pools used for hydrotherapy are filled with warm water, which has a soothing effect on your entire body. The heat from the water also stimulates blood flow throughout the body, helping decrease the pain and stiffness in and around the joints.
The weight of your body is supported by the water, taking the stress off your joint while you exercise. But even as your body remains afloat, the water does offer some resistance to physical movement, which in turn adds to your muscle-strengthening effort.
According to one randomized controlled trial conducted on 73 elderly women with knee OA, hydrotherapy can be a safe and effective intervention program for improving joint mobility and reducing joint pain. (25)(26)
Please consult your physician to make sure hydrotherapy will be safe and effective for you.
8. Self-care tips
- Get proper sleep: Restful sleep is one of the best stress busters and is an essential requisite for proper OA management. Increased stress is one of the prime contributors to the onset of OA and can also accelerate the progression of the disease.
So, make sure to follow a regular sleeping schedule and get enough hours of shut-eye every day. As your body is constantly in a state of unease, it becomes all the more important to give it a proper break. A well-rested body is better equipped to cope with the pain and stress of OA.
- Practice mindful relaxation techniques: Living with pain can negatively impact your emotional and mental well-being, which can make the fight against OA even harder. Thus, you must make a concerted effort to maintain a positive outlook.
Relaxation techniques such as meditation, listening to soothing music, or engaging in any activity that you find pleasurable can help distract you from the pain.
- Balance activity with rest: A lot of people think that minimizing physical activity will help reduce the OA-induced joint pain. Not only is this patently false, but it can even be quite deleterious in the long run.
While it is true that OA can make it very difficult for you to move and walk, giving up physical activity will only increase the stiffness in your joints and contribute to increased immobility. You must keep yourself active to retain joint function and flexibility, not just by moving about but also through regular exercise.
However, it is important not to overexert your body, so you must not engage in prolonged, intensive, or rigorous physical activity. Take multiple breaks in between periods of activity, and quit the task the minute it feels exhausting.
Exercise also helps keep your weight under check, which is essential for controlling the symptoms and progression of OA. (27)
- Try acupuncture: Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese technique that involves the insertion of needles in specific points of the body to heal various maladies. This alternative therapy may help alleviate the symptomatic discomfort associated with OA and improve joint mobility when performed by a trained specialist.
Diet for Osteoarthritis
A healthy diet is an important part of OA management. It can help enhance the effectiveness of the other treatment modalities and can even reduce your dependence on analgesic medications.
Your body needs several key nutrients to fight the underlying joint inflammation and maintain your overall skeletal health. However, no food or nutrient by itself can have any significant positive impact unless it is consumed as part of a well-balanced, wholesome diet.
Beneficial nutrients and their food sources
People with OA can benefit from increasing their intake of the following:
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is one of the most important bone-building nutrients as it improves the absorption and utilization of calcium by the body.
If you do not have enough vitamin D in your system, your body will be unable to absorb the calcium present in the blood and will start extracting calcium from the bones instead to fulfill its needs.
This will lead to the gradual weakening of the bones and will increase the risk of fractures, especially in older adults. No wonder then that vitamin deficiency is known to accelerate the progression of OA. (28)
Your body is capable of synthesizing vitamin D through sunlight exposure. This is why this nutrient also goes by the name of “sunshine vitamin.” Your diet is the only other source to supplement your daily vitamin D needs in the interest of maintaining healthy bones.
A blood test can be performed to assess your levels of vitamin D. Please consult with your physician to determine the appropriate dose of vitamin D supplements to take if needed.
- Vitamins C and E: Foods that are replete with vitamins C and E can help strengthen your bones and reduce joint inflammation.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Add foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. The consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the inflammation and pain caused by OA. These foods include:
- Seeds such as chia seeds and flaxseeds
- Cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, and mackerel
- Other seafood such as shrimps and oysters
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods: Antioxidants can help reduce joint inflammation by curbing oxidative stress in the body. These mighty nutrients combat the damage caused by free radicals, which lie at the base of most health problems.
Antioxidants can slow the progress of OA by inhibiting future breakdown of the joint cartilage. Thus, your diet should contain a generous amount of antioxidant-rich foods if you wish to reduce the severity and frequency of OA symptoms.
Brightly pigmented fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, cantaloupe, and broccoli, are usually loaded with antioxidants and can be a great value addition to your diet.
Moreover, whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and barley, are abundantly supplied with antioxidants, but most of this nutritional value gets lost during the refining process. So, always prefer whole grains over their refined products such as white bread and white rice.
- Unsaturated fats: Saturated and trans fats can lead to undue weight gain and thereby exacerbate your OA symptoms. It is therefore recommended to minimize your intake of these unhealthy fats by avoiding lard, butter, cream, fatty beef, cheese, confectionaries, and fried foods.
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are the good kind of fat, which can be included in your diet. Some good dietary sources of healthy fats include:
- Vegetable oils such as canola, corn, and sunflower oils
- Nuts such as walnuts and almonds
- Seeds such as sesame seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds
- Fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon
- Fruits such as olive and avocado as well as their oils (29)
If you are unable to meet your daily nutritional needs through diet alone, you may consider taking nutritional supplements but only after consulting your doctor first.
A number of dietary supplements may help in mitigating OA symptoms when taken in the correct dosage. There is some preliminary evidence that favors the use of the following supplements for improving OA symptoms:
- Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), which are supplements made from avocado oil and soybean oil extracts (30)
- Nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
- Ginger supplements (31)
However, further research is needed to establish these claims.
Mediterranean diet for osteoarthritis
The Mediterranean diet has all the makings of a healthy eating plan for patients with OA, a claim which has also been substantiated by research.
Several studies have highlighted the beneficial impact of this diet on OA symptoms, in terms of reducing joint inflammation, weight gain, and the risk of bone fractures and disability.
The Mediterranean diet is recognized as an anti-inflammatory diet, since it emphasizes the intake of foods that fight inflammation while limiting those that induce it.
Anti-inflammatory foods that form the crux of this kind of healthy eating include:
- Locally grown fruits and vegetables
- Fatty fish
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
- Select dairy items such as yogurt
Meanwhile, the consumption of pro-inflammatory foods such as red meat, sugar, and most dairy products is kept to a minimum. (32)
Osteoarthritis Versus Rheumatoid Arthritis
Both rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA) are characterized by joint pain and stiffness, but they are essentially two different conditions that need to be treated differently.
OA is relatively more common than RA and is, in fact, the most prevalent form of arthritis in general. OA is classified as non-inflammatory arthritis, whereas RA is an inflammatory arthritis that can manifest with systemic disease.
However, this demarcation does not mean that OA is entirely without any inflammatory features. It is common for patients with OA to experience some degree of joint inflammation, but it usually does not manifest in the form of warm or swollen joints in the pattern typically seen in RA.
Even though both OA and RA target the joints and share some common symptoms, they are brought on by different causes. OA occurs due to the mechanical degeneration of the joints, whereas RA is an autoimmune condition wherein the body starts attacking the healthy joint tissue.
RA can begin at any age, but OA is more common in older adults.
Osteoarthritis Versus Osteoporosis
It is easy to confuse OA with osteoporosis, given the similarity in their names. However, the two are entirely separate conditions.
Unlike OA, which is caused by the progressive breakdown or thinning of the cartilaginous cushion in the joints, osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by decreased bone density.
Osteoporosis can render your bones increasingly weak and thereby can increase the risk of fractures. The term osteoporosis can be translated into porous bones.
OA tends to worsen with age and can progress to cause joint deformity and even disability if not met with proper care and treatment.
Also, the constant pain and stiffness in the joints can keep you from performing the simplest of tasks and hamper your overall quality of life. In some cases, the OA-induced joint damage can become severe enough to cause the following complications:
- Chondrolysis, a condition marked by the rapid and total destruction of the cartilage in the joint
- Osteonecrosis, which refers to bone death
- Hairline fractures, usually in the wake of repeated injury or stress
- Joint infection
- Internal bleeding within the joint
- Breakdown or rupturing of the supportive tendons and ligaments that hold the joint in place, which leads to joint instability
- Pinched nerve, especially in the case of OA of the spine
When to See a Doctor
OA at times, needs medical evaluation and treatment, so it is important that you see a doctor as soon as you notice the first symptoms.
Look out for the following warning signs as they might indicate OA:
- If one or more joints become painful, swollen, warm to the touch, or unusually red and stiff
- If the joint symptoms do not subside within 3 days or more
- Multiple flare-ups of joint symptoms within a month
The doctor will conduct the necessary examination to reach a conclusive diagnosis and then design a treatment plan that will be customized to your individual case.
What you may ask your doctor:
- Can my pain medication cause unwanted side effects?
- What are some appropriate exercises that I can try?
- Is it safe to do stretching or flexing exercises to relieve joint stiffness?
- What are the most effective exercises that I can try?
- Why does the weather affect my symptoms?
- Should I take any additional nutritional supplements?
- What level of physical activity should I maintain to retain flexibility in my joints?
- What can I do to minimize the risk of joint damage?
- Should I see a physical therapist or other health care provider?
What your doctor may ask you:
- Where is the pain?
- Can you describe the pain?
- How long has it been since you first noticed the pain?
- What factors trigger or aggravate your pain?
- Are any of your other joints sore?
- Did you suffer any joint injury in the past?
- What medications or treatments have you tried and have they helped?
- Does your joint pain get worse with activity and better with rest?
- Does any member of your family have a history of joint disease?