How do I recognize osteoarthritis? How is osteoarthritis treated? Do I need surgery? It’s completely normal that several questions come to mind when talking or thinking about the most common joint disease. Below we answer some of the most frequently asked questions on OA.
- Joint pain, stiffness, or discomfort during or after activity
- Joint swelling
- Reduced range of motion and flexibility
Keep in mind that these symptoms do not necessarily indicate that you have osteoarthritis (OA). Similar symptoms may arise due to overtraining or be a sign of other joint diseases. Try to think if you are at risk of developing OA. Are you over 45 years old? Are you overweight? Does a close relative to you suffer from OA? Have you previously sustained a joint injury in the same joint that is giving you trouble? Has excess load been applied to the affected joint over a longer period (for example due to heavy lifting in the workplace)? If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, your joint pain may be a sign of OA.
The first thing you should do if you are experiencing symptoms of OA is to contact your healthcare provider to make an appointment with a doctor or physiotherapist. If your symptoms are severe or your GP/physiotherapist isn’t certain of your diagnosis, you may be referred to an orthopaedic specialist for assessment.
Unfortunately, there is no universal “cure” for OA in the sense of there being a specific treatment undoing or stopping joint damage. However, this does not entail that it is impossible to live an active and healthy lifestyle with your OA. The first-line treatment recommended to all OA patients which includes patient education, weight loss (if necessary), and regular physical activity, can do wonders for alleviating OA symptoms. Our joints need a certain amount of exercise for joint health and exercise has the power to increase both mobility and strength and reduce joint pain. For most people with OA, first-line treatment is sufficient to improve their quality of life.
It is still unclear why women after a certain age (45+) are a lot more likely to develop OA than men, but researchers believe that women’s hormonal changes during menopause may contribute to the increased risk. However, there is yet no exact explanation as to why this is the case.
Yes, you can. It is not uncommon to suffer from OA in, for example, your knees, hips, and fingers at the same time.
OA is not a "wear and tear" disease as was once believed. On the contrary, lack of physical inactivity is a major problem today as our joints need to move to stay healthy. Of course, there are instances where too intense exercise causes joint overload, but if you aren't entirely sure how to exercise correctly, it can be a good idea to turn to a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist for advice.
Exercise is essential for symptom relief for OA. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle is becoming a worldwide public health problem. Our bones and joints need load and movement, otherwise, they become weak, risking damage. Regular physical activity, amongst other things, strengthens the muscles and increases joint stability. It may be difficult to start moving when you are in a lot of pain, but gradually increasing your amount of exercise can lead to both reduced pain and improved joint mobility. Exercise has been proven to provide similar pain relief as many over-the-counter painkillers. This is partly due to the body realising endorphins in connection with physical activity, which reduces pain. Exercising is in general great for the whole body and has positive effects on both our physical and mental health.
It is normal to experience pain when exercising, which is why it is important to adjust your exercise intensity to your ability. It is easy to feel discouraged due to the pain, but as long as the pain returns to its “normal” state within 24 hours, you are exercising right. However, if you experience increased pain more than 24 hours after exercising, lower the intensity of your physical activity or try a form of exercise that fits you better. A physiotherapist can guide you so that you get the best possible results from your exercise.
No, not necessarily. Only a small proportion of all OA patients require surgery (around 10% of all knee and hip OA patients). It is not until later stages of the disease when the patient is suffering from severe pain including pain at rest, that surgery is considered. When the disease has reached this stage, loss of joint space due to loss of articular cartilage and bone spurs tend to be very visible on an X-ray.
There's no straight answer to that question. A lot of patients live well without getting surgery, by adapting their lifestyle to their joint pain and function. For many, joint pain decreases with time. The need to have surgery depends on how severe your OA symptoms are, how well your joint functions, and what changes in quality of life and level of activity you are prepared to accept. The decision on whether to undergo joint replacement surgery should always be made between you and your physician.
The bone tissue changes early on in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis and tends to continue changing even when the cartilage has disappeared. Changes include bone deformation, cyst formations, alterations of bone density, etcetera. These changes are not in themselves dangerous but may cause joint pain as the bone tissue contains a lot of nerves. However, a lot of patients with advanced osteoarthritis and changes to the bone tissue are completely pain-free.
Yes, it is possible to use TENS to relieve your OA pain. There are different types of electrodes to use depending on which joint is affected by OA. To know which electrodes to use we recommend that you either consult a physician/physiotherapist or try which ever you think may suit you. If you have had a joint replacement and want's to try TENS to relieve the pain in this joint as well it should be fine to do so.
Do you have a question related to osteoarthritis? Feel free to email us at kontakt [at] artrosportalen [dot] se (subject: Question) (kontakt[at]artrosportalen[dot]se). We will try to answer you as soon as possible. General questions and their answers will be posted here. Please note that we are not able to answer any personal questions or questions regarding your symptoms. For specific questions regarding your state of health, we recommend that you contact your healthcare provider.