As people age, the body starts to break down, which can lead to a multitude of conditions. One of the most common conditions that affect elderly people is arthritis, which occurs as a result of the breakdown of joint and muscle tissue. Osteoarthritis is a form of this condition that affects well over 21 million people in the United States and actually accounts for almost ΒΌ of all doctor visits across the nation. Most NSAID prescriptions are also attributed to osteoarthritis, and it appears that the number affected is growing by the year. Although the disease can be managed, there is currently no cure. This means that those affected by OA must live a life of pain management and decreased physical activity, which is frustrating to say the least.

Recent evidence suggests that nearly 80% of the population in the United States will have some form of OA by the age of 65, which is an impressive statistic. Although not everyone will feel the symptoms, the joint and cartilage breakdown will be evident in most adults at that time. Some of the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis are pain and numbness in the joints and limbs, which sometimes lead to a loss of ability in extreme cases. As is the case with most joint injuries, hot or cold weather will also enhance the pain that these patients feel.

In some cases, the joints will crack often, while in other cases they might fill up with fluid. Sometimes there are nodes, called Heberden’s nodes, which grow on the joints and make the joint look puffy or swollen. Obviously, these are uncomfortable and can have a major impact on the person’s ability to use that limb or joint.

Although doctors are still trying to identify causes of osteoarthritis, most of the time it seems that hereditary factors are the most common. If someone in your family has suffered from osteoarthritis, then there is a high probability that you or your children will have this condition as well. There are also some clinical tests being conducted to find other risk factors, but they have been limited thus far.

Since there is no cure for osteoarthritis, treating it becomes a lifelong battle. The most important thing to do is make sure that you get plenty of rest and try to get some exercise to keep the joints fluid and functional. Although exercise can be difficult in circumstances of extreme pain, low-impact exercises like swimming might be helpful. Exercise actually works to help the body improve the joints and connective tissue, and being sedentary has the opposite effect. So if you can, try to get some kind of activity in your weekly schedule.

Pain management with NSAID’s is also helpful, although over time they can lose their effectiveness. Supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin have been shown to help repair and rebuild bone and connective tissue, so even if you don’t have OA you might consider taking a supplement as you age because it also works as a preventative measure. Steroids have also been shown to help, particularly when injected into the joint, but they are generally used only in extreme circumstances, as they can lose their potency and degrade joint tissue over time.

There are also several topical creams and ointments that might work, but the best person to ask about them is your doctor, who can prescribe an action plan for you to manage your pain and inflammation. Although osteoarthritis is a difficult condition to live with, the pain and symptoms can be managed with exercise and medication. Talk with your doctor if you wish to learn more about osteoarthritis treatment or prevention.


Last updated on Apr 18th, 2009 and filed under Musculoskeletal Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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