Do your knees, hips and other joints snap, crackle and pop when you move? Whether you’re a senior, approaching middle age or a young athlete in your prime, you may have arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. 

Once considered an age-related condition, it’s now known that arthritis can afflict anyone at any age. The condition can range from slight joint stiffness in the morning to a chronic, debilitating pain that can limit your mobility and reduce your quality of life. 

More than 40 million Americans suffer from arthritis, and more than half of arthritis cases are osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that affects cartilage, the tissue that covers the ends of the bones in a joint. The joints most often affected by osteoarthritis are those used for bending and swiveling movements: the knees, hips, shoulders and fingers. Healthy cartilage provides padding between bones that acts as a shock absorber for high-impact activities, and helps bones to glide smoothly together at the joints for bending and rotating motions. 

In joints affected by osteoarthritis, the smooth, elastic cartilage that covers the ends of bones breaks down and wears away, leaving a rough surface where bones can rub together. Eventually, the joint can become misshapen; bits of bone and cartilage may break off and float in the joint space; or spiky growths called bone spurs can develop on the surface of the exposed bone – which can cause joint pain and decreased mobility.

Osteoarthritis Risk and Symptoms

Osteoarthritis can develop over time as age-related wear and tear, or as a result of a joint injury. Those at risk of developing osteoarthritis include females, those who have a family history of osteoarthritis, those who are overweight or have had prior joint injuries, and those who put continuous, repetitive stress on their joints (i.e., a job that requires excessive lifting, bending or repetitive tasks, or high impact activities, such as running and aerobics).

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include: joint pain – at rest or with activity; swelling or tenderness; stiffness, especially after getting out of bed or sitting for a long time; limited joint motion;  weakness in the limb; and bony enlargement of the joint area.

A “crunching” noise or feeling when moving the joint

Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, early diagnosis and treatment may help slow the development and progression of the disease, further avoiding joint damage; help relieve pain and stiffness; and preserve maximum range of motion. According to the Arthritis Foundation (AF), symptoms of osteoarthritis begin to set in 10 years after a specific cause such as an injury or obesity, so early treatment is important.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Osteoarthritis is diagnosed through a combination of tests including a medical history, physical exam, x-rays or MRIs, and possibly, blood tests or examinations of fluid drawn from the joint. 

(Editor’s Note: Mauricio Valencia, M.D. is a family medicine physician practicing with Northwest Allied Physicians.  The office phone is 202-1585 or www.mytucsondoc.com.)

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