What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis frequently referred to as OA, arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, affects an estimated 27 million Americans over the age of 25. Resulting from the breakdown of the cartilage within the joints, it is the result of wear and tear. Acting as a shock absorber, cartilage is responsible for reducing friction between the joints. As we age, cartilage begins to lose its elasticity and become stiff, putting it at higher risk for damage. As the cartilage wears down, ligaments and tendons stretch, causing pain. As the condition worsens, the bones may begin to rub against each other. Arthritis can occur in any joint, though it is most common in weight bearing joints, as well as the fingers and neck.
The Prevalence of Arthritis in Women
An estimated 16 million, or 63.5 percent, of sufferers are women. While women of any age can develop arthritis, those over the age of 45 are most at risk.
Causes of Arthritis in Women and Men
The exact causes of arthritis are not known, though there are several theories.
Due to arthritis being a wear and tear disease, age is thought to play a significant role in its development.
Obesity is also thought to be a cause. This is due to added the stress placed on the lower joints caused by excess weight.
Individuals whose jobs involve repetitive motions are at a higher risk of developing common types of arthritis.
Athletes are at a higher risk due to excessive stress placed on the joints, as well as past soft tissue injuries.
Genetics are believed to play a role in arthritis, especially in the hands. Joints that do not fit together properly, such as those of people who are double jointed, and inherited bone abnormalities that affect the joint’s shape and stability, increase the chances of developing arthritis.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Women
The most common symptom associated with arthritis in pain in the affected joints. While some women experience constant pain, others may have pain that comes and goes. In addition, joint stiffness, particularly after waking up or sitting in the same position for long periods, is common. Stiffness may results in crunching and cracking sounds in the joint. Over time, the joints may begin to appear deformed or misshapen and decreased range of motion may result.
Treatment of Arthritis in Women
There is no known cure for arthritis. As a result, treatment focuses on slowing its progression and symptom management.
Pain management is necessary with arthritis. Sufferers may take over-the-counter NSAIDS (Advil, Naproxen) to decrease inflammation of the joints and decrease pain. Tylenol has also shown some success in decreasing mild to moderate pain.
For severe pain, physicians may prescribe narcotics or prescription strength pain medications. They should be taken in moderation due to a risk of dependency.
Physical therapy may be suggested to strengthen the muscles around the joints and increase range of motion.
If the afflicted person is overweight, weight loss is suggested to relieve symptoms.
In the event conservative treatments aren’t effective, cortisone shots or lubricating injections may be prescribed to relieve pain. Cortisone shots involve injecting the medicine into the spaces within the affected joints. Lubricating injections utilize hyaluronic acid derivatives to provide cushioning in the knee.
In severe cases involving the knee joints, a surgical procedure called as osteotomy may be performed. This involves realignment of the bone to shift body weight away from the area of your knee that is worn down.
In some instances, total knee arthroplasty may be performed. This involves the removal of your damaged joint surfaces and replacement with plastic or metal devices called prosthesis. This is most commonly done on the hip or knee joint.
Prevalence of Arthritis in Men
Before the age of 55, arthritis is more common in men than women, although more women develop the condition overall. Approximately 9 million men in the United States suffer from different types of arthritis.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Men
Men experience the same symptoms as women including pain ranging from intermittent and mild to constant and severe, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and crackling sounds heard in the joints.
Pain Relief in Women and Men
Although many people believe that limiting the motion of the affected joint is the best way to decrease pain, this is not the case. Gentle range of motion exercises are frequently prescribed to ensure the joints remain flexible, limit further damage, ease discomfort, and decrease swelling.
Hot and cold treatments may be used to decrease swelling and relieve pain. Hot baths and heating pads can improve flexibility, while cold packs can numb painful joints.
As discussed above, over-the-counter Tylenol and NSAIDS, such as Aleve and Ibuprofen, may be taken for pain relief. In severe cases, narcotics may be prescribed for pain relief.
Topical pain relievers, such as those involving capsaicin, menthol, camphor, and salicylates, may be applied over the affected joint for pain reliever.
As discussed above, cortisone shots, lubricating injections, and surgery may be utilized in severe cases.