Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis among Americans, should not be confused with its cousin rheumatoid arthritis. Both forms of arthritis create pain in the joints, but osteoarthritis is not an inflammation. Some physicians may call it degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, which indicates a gradual degeneration of joint tissue over time. Rheumatoid arthritis can flare up suddenly, but osteoarthritis generally doesn't appear until middle age or following trauma to a joint.
If you've ever heard a former athlete refer to a 'trick knee' or an elderly relative complain of joint pain on rainy days, they are most likely referring to osteoarthritis. As the body ages, the cartilage and fluid sacs between joints begin to disintegrate. Once this protection and cushioning is gone, the bones often begin to rub together. This in turn causes bones to form growths called spurs, which can contribute even more pain and instability to the joint.
Osteoarthritis does not have one specific cause, but there are a number of factors which can lead to its formation. Obesity can cause tremendous pressure on the hips, knees and ankle bones. These also happen to be three of the most common sites for osteoarthritis. There is also some evidence that heredity and genetics play a role in the development or non-development of osteoarthritis later in life. Sports injuries involving joints can also lead to early development of osteoarthritis.
There is no specific cure for osteoarthritis, but there are a variety of pain management options. Many sufferers find temporary relief through the use of non-steroidal analgesics like Osteo Bi-Flex. Athletes often receive injections of cortisone to create a temporary cushion between damaged joints. Heat treatments and medicated sportscremes such as Myoflex and BenGay can also provide some relief from the stiffness. In more serious cases of osteoarthritis, the entire joint may be replaced with an artificial one. This is most commonly done with hip and knee joints.
Osteoarthritis does not affect every weight-bearing joint in the body, contrary to popular thought. Overuse of joints such as the elbows or wrists will not automatically lead to osteoarthritis in later life, although these areas are prone to tendinitis, which may feel similar to arthritis in many ways.