Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder which often begins in the 40s and 50s. It affects almost all people to some degree by the age of 80. It is a chronic disorder linked with damage to the cartilage and surrounding tissues. Osteoarthritis is characterized by pain, stiffness and loss of function of joints cartilage.
Primary osteoarthritis may affect only certain joints, such as knee, elbow, shoulder, hip, or at times even all joints. Osteoarthritis is classified as primary or idiopathic when the cause is not known. It is classified as secondary when the cause is another disease or condition, such as an infection or joint abnormality that appeared at birth or due to some injury.
White shiny covering over the ends of the bone is referred to as articular cartilage. Articular cartilage has a very unique feature because it is smooth yet tough, and serves as the bearing surfaces of the joint. Cartilage degeneration can lead to osteoarthritis over time causing pain and disability of the joint.
Osteoarthritis is most often caused due to tissue damage. Typically, after years of use, overuse or due to any injury, the articular cartilage starts wearing out and damages the tissue.
There are other reasons that the cartilage can get injured and most of these injuries are traumatic:
Most cartilage injuries lead to swelling and pain in the joint. This makes the cartilage unstable and can lead to irritation of the synovium, which is the covering of the joint. Unstable cartilage causes excessive secretion of synovial fluid (joint fluid) and leads to swelling.
Symptoms usually develop gradually and affect only a few joints at first. Commonly affected are the joints of the fingers, bases of the thumbs, lower back, neck, big toes, hips and knees. The first symptom is often described as a deep ache. Weight-bearing joints get worse by activities that involve weight bearing (body weight).
Depending on the severity, the joint may become less movable and eventually may not be able to completely straighten or bend.
Maintaining joint flexibility, optimizing overall joint function and relieving pain are the main goals of the treatment. Physical measures that involve exercises for strength, flexibility and endurance are achieved primarily from these goals. Physical therapies help people to modify their daily activities while they are suffering from osteoarthritis. Additional treatment includes surgery (for some people), drugs and newer therapies.
A physiotherapist can help you perform appropriate exercises which include stretching, strengthening and postural exercises that help maintain healthy cartilage, increase joint flexibility and strengthen surrounding muscles so that they can absorb stress. Stretching exercises should be performed daily.