Often called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis can cause pain and stiffness in any joint where two or more bones make contact, such as your spine, ankle, fingers, or knees.
Have you ever had one of those days where your whole body seems to ache? If only squirting your joints with oil like the Tin Man could would make you feel good again! Unfortunately, we don't live in a land where "all the streets are paved with gold, and no-one ever grows old." Those aching joints cannot be fixed with an oil can, and are most likely caused by osteoarthritis.
Your joints are protected by smooth cartilage and synovial fluid (your body's equivalent of joint oil), allowing bones to glide over one another. Sometimes there is a breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage, usually from stress and wear, as well as the synovial fluid becoming thinner and losing its elasticity and ability to provide a good cushion. As a result of this, the bones rub together causing pain, swelling, and stiffness – also known as osteoarthritis.
Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis:
- pain and stiffness after rest or activity
- joint pain brought on by a change in weather
- tenderness when you apply light pressure to your joint
- limited range of motion
- swelling and stiffness in one or more joints
- hear or feel a grating sensation when moving joints
The following factors may increase your risk of osteoarthritis:
- having a family member with the condition
- age (your cartilage wears down with time)
- being overweight
- fractures or other joint injuries
- small deformity of the bones in a joint
- genetic defect in joint cartilage
- work-related activities or high-impact sports which stress your joints
Osteoarthritis often significantly reduces mobility and quality of life. Since your body cannot replace cartilage and because there is no treatment to stop or reverse cartilage degeneration, early prevention is key.
- Maintaining a healthy weight is critical since being overweight puts extra pressure on your bones and joints.
- Exercise helps maintain joint and overall movement by improving your flexibility, as well as increasing your muscle and bone strength.
- Even if you have osteoarthritis, you should still maintain physical activity. The old saying 'use it or lose it' truly applies here. If you do not stay active, your muscles will weaken and you will experience more stiffness and pain. Switch to lower-impact sports, such as walking, swimming and cycling which are easier on your joints than higher-impact sports like running. If your competitive nature will not allow you to give up your favorite sport, ensure your footwear has good support and cushioning. Remember – investing in your health now will pay dividends later.
Treatments that can ease discomfort:
- Rest will help decrease joint stress and relieve pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy will help to strengthen the muscles around joints, increase your range of motion and reduce pain.
- Massage therapy can provide short-term pain relief.
- Faster relief of arthritis pain can be achieved by applying cream to the affected area (i.e. capsaicin cream or methyl salicylate cream). These creams numb the pain by creating hot or cool sensations.
- Hot and/or cold packs and compresses can ease pain and inflammation.
- Custom made braces or shoe inserts are available to immobilize or support problem areas and help to relieve pressure.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements seem to work for some people. You should go through a three-month trial period to see if glucosamine and chondroitin will work for you.
- Some studies indicate that ginger extract may reduce osteoarthritis pain. However, ginger can interfere with blood-thinning medication. Talk to your health care practitioner before taking ginger supplements.
- Quality collagen supplements, like those from Naturally Savvy's partner NeoCell, can help reform and strengthen connective tissues, like cartilage.
- In some cases surgery can help. Laparoscopic surgery is minimally
invasive but since osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition, relief
is temporary. Alternatively, joint replacement can improve the lifestyle
of seriously afflicted individuals.
There are no quick "oil can" fixes for osteoarthritis. Minimize your risk by protecting your joints, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. Most importantly, even if you do wake up feeling like the Tin Man, keep moving so you can skip down that yellow brick road of life with your friends!