Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, typically occurs in weight-bearing joints— the hips, knees and ankles. It becomes very painful for affected joints to function.

The arthritis gradually breaks down the cartilage that covers the ends of each bone in a joint. Normally, this cartilage acts as a shock absorber, providing a smooth surface between bones. With osteoarthritis, the surface becomes rough and pitted and in advanced stages may wear away completely. The resulting grinding causes inflammation, pain and restricted movement.

There is no cure for arthritis, but there are nonsurgical ways to manage the symptoms to provide pain relief, improve movement and increase your ability to do daily activities.

This type of “wear and tear” arthritis is most common in older people. Even though there is no proven cure for osteoarthritis, effective strategies can keep the damage from getting worse.


Nonsurgical Options

Medicines: Help reduce inflammation and pain.

Cortisone Shots: Alleviate inflammation and may relieve pain for a time. Generally, repeat injections should be limited to three or four per joint, per year.

Hyaluronate Injections: Help restore the cushioning effect and lubrication of normal synovial (joint) fluid.

Thermal Therapy: Heating pads, hot water bottles and saunas may relax muscles to reduce pain and stiffness. Ice packs may help reduce muscle spasms and swelling.

Exercise and Rest: Prolonged inactivity can worsen arthritis symptoms, but excessive or improper exercise can overwork the arthritic joint. A balanced routine of exercise and rest is best.
People who experience severe pain during activities or at night or can't work or perform other routine activities may benefit from surgical treatment.

Surgical Options

When your knee or hip does not respond to nonsurgical treatment, your doctor may recommend a robot-assisted procedure called Mako.

Partial knee resurfacing, total knee replacement and total hip replacement surgeries are safer than they were a decade ago because of a surgeon-controlled robotic arm called the Mako System.

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What’s the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

It's common to confuse osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Besides being the two predominant types of arthritis, OA and RA have very little in common except pain and the limitations they impose on life. The triggers are unclear, though there is evidence that genetics may play a role. With RA, the risk doubles if a person has a first-degree relative with the disease.

When people hear the word “arthritis,” it is often osteoarthritis that they might be thinking of. OA is a degenerative joint disease that usually affects the knees, hips, lower back, small joints in the hands, and the neck. Causes can be strenuous occupations, playing sports, carrying excess weight and repetitive motions. Over time, the cartilage on the ends of the bones wears away leaving bone grating on bone at the joints – a very painful condition. This condition primarily impacts older people, equally in both sexes.

RA, an autoimmune disease, causes antibodies to attack the body's tissues, inflaming and eventually destroying the lining of the joints. This disease can impact people of any age, even children. Research shows that three times more women than men develop RA and females experience greater pain and depression.

With OA, the pain and stiffness is usually worse toward the end of the day. People who have RA experience similar symptoms but pain is mostly in the morning and in greater intensity for several hours. The inflammation can also produce fatigue, low-grade fevers, weakness, anemia and other complications throughout the body. RA can impact as many as 30 different joints, while OA affects a limited number.

RA often leads to greater medical problems. including heart, lung and eye damage and, most seriously, cardiovascular disease. Studies indicate RA can shorten a person's lifespan by as much as three years due to its impact on the heart. It can also cause lymphoma.

The diagnosis of RA can be difficult because it often flares up and then subsides, particularly in the early stages. OA develops gradually. With both, patient history is important in addition to a physical examination, testing and other assessments.

Neither disease is curable, but RA patients can be treated so as to maintain full functionality. There are treatments that slow RA progression. The earlier it is diagnosed the better. Exercise is recommended for both conditions to improve function and mobility. OA treatment includes cold/heat compression, braces, physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or surgery. Steroids can alleviate RA quickly, but patients with RA need more extensive therapies called disease modification therapies.

Understanding these diseases and learning coping and managing strategies can help ease the pain and be instrumental in resuming a more normal life.
— Dr. Yousong Wang, board-certified rheumatology specialist at The Hospital of Central Connecticut