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Do Your Joints Ache?

September 11, 2012

Washington Hospital Seminar Offers Tips for Managing Osteoarthritis

Do you suffer from aches and pains? Do your knees hurt when you walk too far? Or maybe you feel stiff after sitting too long? Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is all too common as we age.

"As you get older, there is wear and tear on the cartilage, which causes osteoarthritis," said Dr. Sandeep Gupta, a local physician who specializes in sports medicine and a member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "The breakdown of cartilage allows the bones to rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain, and loss of movement in the joint."

Gupta will present "Osteoarthritis: What You Need to Know" on Tuesday, September 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. The free seminar will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. You can register online at www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

He will explain the causes and risk factors associated with osteoarthritis, as well as some of the treatment options. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. An estimated 27 million people in the U.S. have the chronic disease, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

"Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that progresses slowly over time," Gupta said. "Cartilage cushions the ends of the bones and allows the joints to move easily. As the cartilage breaks down, the symptoms get worse."

He said osteoarthritis symptoms include:

  • Joint soreness after periods of overuse or inactivity.
  • Stiffness after periods of rest that goes away quickly when activity resumes.
  • Morning stiffness, which usually lasts no more than 30 minutes.
  • Loss of coordination, posture, and walking ability due to pain and stiffness.

Risk Factors

The number one risk factor for osteoarthritis is age, according to Gupta. About 80 percent of people over age 55 show signs of osteoarthritis, he said.

"Women over the age of 55 are 2.6 times more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men," he added. "We're not exactly sure why it's more prevalent in women, but there is some speculation that it is related to the loss of estrogen that occurs with menopause."

Being overweight also increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis. The added weight causes more wear and tear on the joints, Gupta explained. Other major risk factors include:

  • A previous injury that causes damage to the joints, tendons, or ligaments.
  • Jobs that require a lot of lifting, kneeling, squatting, or walking.
  • Playing sports that involve direct impact on the joints like football, or twisting of the joints like basketball, or throwing like baseball.
  • Heredity - it tends to run in families.

There is no definitive test to determine if someone has osteoarthritis, according to Gupta. The diagnosis is made through a physical exam and X-rays can confirm damage to the joints and changes to the bone that are caused by the disease.

"A patient's history can help to determine their risk for osteoarthritis," he added. "We look for the physical signs of osteoarthritis on the radiograph, including joint-space narrowing, bony spurs, thickening of the bone, and cysts beneath the cartilage."

Treatment Options

The pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis can seriously impact quality of life. It can make even the simplest tasks like getting dressed or making the bed difficult.

"The goal of any treatment plan is to improve quality of life by controlling the pain and minimizing the disabling effects of osteoarthritis," Gupta said. "There are a number of ways to manage symptoms depending on how severe they are, including lifestyle changes like losing weight and increasing physical activity."

The first place to start is with a pain reliever that has the least side-effects, which is why most physicians start with acetaminophen, he said. Unfortunately, it is not the most effective at controlling pain. Next in line are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

Another treatment option is cortisone shots, which help to reduce the pain, swelling, and inflammation. Gupta injects the steroid directly into the joint about every three months. He has also had success with injections of hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronan occurs naturally in the synovial fluid that surrounds the joints, Gupta explained. It is a thick liquid that helps lubricate the joints, making them work more smoothly. In people with osteoarthritis, the consistency of hyaluronan becomes thinner.

"I'll also talk about ways people with osteoarthritis can control their symptoms, like hot and cold packs, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, and eating a healthy diet," Gupta added. "There are steps you can take to reduce the pain and stiffness."

To find out about other classes and seminars offered at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com.

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