Osteoarthritis – also called wear and tear arthritis – is the most common form of arthritis in the UK and also the leading cause of disability. The condition affects around 8.5 million people, resulting in joint pain and stiffness and limiting participation in everyday activities. Aside from the pain and loss of mobility, the condition is often linked to depression as it has a negative impact on a person’s quality of life.
According to NICE, at least 50% of people over the age of 65 have evidence of osteoarthritis in X-rays. Women are more commonly affected than men.
Causes of osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a chronic musculoskeletal disorder that affects all of the structures in the joint, including the cartilage, synovial membrane and bone. It occurs most commonly in the hips, knees, hands, elbow and spine and is a degenerative disease, which means it worsens over time.
The condition results in cartilage – the firm, slippery tissue that cushions the ends of the bones in your joints – starting to wear away, hence the name wear and tear arthritis. Cartilage helps to ensure smooth movement of the joint. When it wears away it can lead to bone rubbing against bone. Osteoarthritis also affects the bones, muscles and connective tissues and leads to inflammation in the lining of the joint.
You are most at risk of the condition if you:
- Are above a certain age. The risk increases as you get older, with around 50% of over 65s showing evidence of the condition.
- Are overweight. This is because carrying extra weight increases stress on weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees.
- Are a woman. Experts are unclear why, but women are more prone to the condition than men.
- Have malformed joints or a genetic predisposition to the disease.
- Injure your joint as the result of an accident or repetitive strain injury.
Diagnosis of osteoarthritis
A doctor will normally carry out a physical examination and ask you questions about your symptoms. If osteoarthritis is suspected, you might be referred for a range of diagnostic tests such as:
- An x-ray which can show bony spurs that can develop as a result of osteoarthritis, or narrowing of the spaces between the bones due to cartilage loss.
- MRI scan which can provide a detailed picture of the bones and soft tissues in the joint.
- Blood tests which may be used to rule out rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune condition).
Treatment of osteoarthritis
While osteoarthritis cannot be cured and the affected joints will continue to deteriorate as the condition develops, there are treatments available to help you manage the pain and maintain as much movement and flexibility as possible. These include:
- Medication to relieve chronic pain, including anti-inflammatories and acetaminophen.
- Injections of corticosteroids into the joint to relieve pain in the short-term. You will normally be able to have a maximum of four injections as they can result in worsening joint damage in the long-term.
- Injections of hyaluronic acid which is similar to natural joint fluid and can help to lubricate the joint.
- Physiotherapy, which can recommend exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint and increase movement.
- Joint replacement surgery which is normally only offered when the pain of osteoarthritis becomes severe. In the case of knee and hip replacements, you may be offered a partial or a total joint replacement depending on the location and extent of joint damage.
The treatment you are offered and the outcomes will depend on the type and extent of joint damage. While medication and injections can provide relief for mild to moderate symptoms, once joint damage becomes severe, you may require more extensive surgery to achieve relief from pain and to restore lost mobility.
An orthopaedic surgeon will be able to offer detailed advice on your treatment options and the likely outcomes once you have been diagnosed. It is important to get a diagnosis as early as possible to ensure the widest range of possible treatment options.
Next steps | Orthopaedic specialists – Nottingham
Our orthopaedic consultants each specialise in a particular area of orthopaedics, giving you added peace of mind that you are receiving expert medical advice and highly tailored treatment.
BMI The Park Hospital
Sherwood Lodge Drive Burntstump Country Park, Arnold NG5 8RX
Spire Nottingham Hospital
Tollerton Ln, Tollerton, Nottingham NG12 4GA