What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is one of the world's most common health problems. It affects more than 20 million Americans, and more women than men. It's more common in older people. Osteoarthritis acts on the crucially important cartilage that cushions and protects the ends of bones within the joints. It causes this cartilage to break down, so that bone comes to rub against bone inside the joint. There are also other symptoms that people with osteoarthritis are all too familiar with: pain, stiffness, and joint immobility. The disease most commonly affects joints of the fingers, neck, back, knees, and hips.
Causes of osteoarthritis
Several things can cause osteoarthritis:
- Injury to the joints - professional athletes who repeatedly injure their knees often develop it
- Repetitive stress on joints - common among miners, dockworkers and others who bend their knees regularly on the job
- Being overweight - extra weight puts constant stress on joints that eventually damages cartilage, especially in the knee
- Heredity - the disease has long been recognized to run in families
Although there's no cure for osteoarthritis, medicines can relieve pain and stiffness. Over-the-counter, prescription, and alternative treatments are available. Exercise, physical therapy, and massage may benefit some people. In some cases, surgery is recommended to replace or repair severely affected joints.