What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis among Americans, should not be confused with its cousin rheumatoid arthritis. Both forms of arthritis create joint pain, but osteoarthritis is not inflammation. Some doctors may call it degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis , indicating a gradual degeneration of joint tissue over time. Rheumatoid arthritis can come on suddenly, but osteoarthritis usually doesn't come on until middle age or after trauma to a joint.

If you've ever heard a former athlete refer to a "cheating knee" or an elderly relative complain of joint pain on rainy days, chances are they're referring to osteoarthritis. As the body ages, the cartilage and fluid sacs between the joints begin to break down. Once this protection and cushioning is gone, the bones often begin to rub together. This in turn causes the bones to form growths called spurs, which can further contribute to joint pain and instability.

Osteoarthritis does not have a specific cause, but there are a number of factors that can lead to its formation. Obesity can cause tremendous pressure on the hips, knees, and ankle bones. These are also three of the most common sites for osteoarthritis. There is also some evidence that heredity and genetics play a role in whether or not osteoarthritis develops later in life. Sports injuries involving joints can also lead to the early development of osteoarthritis.

There is no specific cure for osteoarthritis, but there are a variety of pain management options. Many victims find temporary relief through the use of non-steroidal pain relievers such as Osteo Bi-Flex. Athletes often receive cortisone injections to create a temporary cushion between damaged joints. Heat treatments and medicated sports creams, such as Myoflex and BenGay, can also relieve stiffness. In more severe cases of osteoarthritis, the entire joint may be replaced with an artificial one. This is most commonly done with the hip and knee joints.

Osteoarthritis does not affect all weight-bearing joints in the body, contrary to popular belief. Overuse of joints such as the elbows or wrists will not automatically lead to osteoarthritis in adulthood, although these areas are prone to tendonitis, which in many ways can be similar to arthritis.

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