Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis (OA)is the most common form of arthritis, and it usually involves inflammation of the joints between the ends of bones that separate the joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is usually the natural result of the aging process, though it does not necessarily mean that we will experience pain and disability because of it. Actually, OA is a condition that we all go through to some degree as we age, and many of us are unaware of it even as it is happening. As we go about our daily lives, working and paying for our homes and loving our families, the joint space between our bones is becoming thinner and thinner, year by year. Eventually, the joints may wear down to such a degree that the bones are able to touch one another, or osteophytes "bone spurs" form on the ends of the bones. We may experience these degenerative changes in the form of stiffness, heat in the areas affected, soreness, achiness and pain.

Don't get too scared with the description of Osteoarthritis I mentioned above! The symptoms of osteoarthritis are reversible, or at least manageable, even if some of the structural changes to your body aren't. Let's take a closer look at this disease, how it is diagnosed, and how to treat it.

Osteoarthritis, origins and explanation - Osteoarthritis is caused by a breakdown of cartilage of one or more joints. Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue composed of collagen fibers, and gel-like substance composed of proteoglycan and elastic fibers. If you are really not that interested in the science and composition of cartilage, know this. The cartilage provides a soft cushion between bones as they are pushed together from force or gravity, or when the rotate around an axis (as in the knees and elbows) . If this cushion is taken away from us, we may feel the consequences in the form of stiffness or pain.

Osteoarthritis may affect any joint, but the weight bearing joints, such as those in the lower back, are the most susceptible. As we get older, the water content in the cartilage increases, and the protein makeup degenerates. Eventually cartilage begins to wear down by flaking or forming tiny cracks on its surface inwards. The cartilage degeneration may eventually degenerate to such a degree that there is a total loss of cushion between the bones of the joints. Pain may result from these degenerative changes by inflammation of the joints that are no longer properly cushioned between the bones.

Treatment. When I first asked about the degenerative changes that occurred to my back, I asked my spine doctor, Dr. Rainville, if they were reversible through physical therapy. He said "life is a one way street." Indeed it is in a lot of circumstances, and not all roads travel in both directions. Didn't Ponce De Leon die trying to find the fountain of youth? In any event, most of us with OA can still lead normal lives at a very acceptable comfort level. Here are some things we can do at home for this disease:
  • Healthy diet: Having a diet high in antioxidants (Vitamin C & E) protects against inflammation of the joint, and Vitamin D and calcium may help to fortify and strengthen bones.