Osteoarthritis

32.5 M

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, 32.5 million U.S. adults are estimated to have OA.

88%

of people with OA are 45 or older, while 43% are 65 or older.

62%

of individuals with OA are women.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that is characterized by joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. It occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time. [1]

Who is affected?

Anyone can be diagnosed with osteoarthritis. But women are more likely than men to have the condition. The condition is generally diagnosed after the age of 50. [2] Black Americans and people with lower socio-economic status are at greater risk of getting osteoarthritis. [3] [4]

Numerous factors can make you more at risk of osteoarthritis, including genetics, obesity, joint injuries, and other medical conditions. [1]

What happens in your body?

Osteoarthritis symptoms generally develop slowly and become worse over time.

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include: [1] [5]

  • Joint pain during or after movement
  • Joint stiffness after resting or first thing in the morning
  • Tenderness in the joints when you apply light pressure to the area
  • Limited range of motion
  • Swelling around the joint
  • Clicking or cracking when the joint bends
  • Hard lumps that form around the affected joint
  • Joint instability or buckling
  • Pain in the groin, buttocks, toes, or ankles

How do I know if I have osteoarthritis?

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible to make sure that the condition does not worsen. The best way to do this is by visiting your doctor and, if possible, getting a referral to visit a rheumatologist, a doctor with specialized training in treating osteoarthritis. 

Some ways that your doctor can assess whether you have the condition is through a physical examination or lab tests (such as imaging tests).

How is it treated?

There is no known cure for osteoarthritis, but integrative interventions may reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life by slowing the condition’s progression and easing the severity of symptoms. [6] [7]

Integrative interventions offer a holistic approach to treatment. Instead of just conventional medicine, integrative treatments combine conventional medicine with nutritional tools, mind-body medicine, and manual medicine for a holistic approach to treating osteoarthritis. 

For those new to integrative medicine, learn more here

Conventional Medicine

Many people with osteoarthritis find that certain medications work for them and others do not. So, in order to find an effective conventional treatment, people with osteoarthritis often work with their doctors to determine which medication works best with their body and needs. 

With the right medication, it is possible to manage symptoms like inflammation and prevent the rapid worsening of the condition. Before starting to take any medication, be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects. And if you notice any of the side effects once you start your treatment, let your doctor know as soon as possible.

 

Examples of conventional treatments:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (common name: ibuprofen), or NSAIDs, are commonly used treatments for inflammation and pain resulting from osteoarthritis. [1] [5]

  • Analgesics (common name: aspirin) are intended to relieve pain, and are often recommended for patients who have previously experienced negative side effects when taking NSAIDs. [1] [5]

  • Duloxetine (brand name: Cymbalta) is an antidepressant which can also be used to relieve chronic pain. [1] [5]

  • Cortisone injections (also called corticosteroids) are steroid drugs that can be taken by injection, and may help to reduce osteoarthritis-related inflammation in targeted areas. [1] [5]

  • Joint replacement surgery involves the replacement of damaged joint surfaces with metal or plastic parts to relieve pain and improve mobility. It is considered to be a ‘last resort’ treatment for osteoarthritis. [1] [5]

Mind-Body Medicine

Research shows that gentle, low-intensity mind-body treatments can help osteoarthritis patients with mobility, mood, decreased pain, and more. There are a wide variety of mind-body treatments for osteoarthritis, ranging from deep breathing to aqua-therapy.

When living with chronic pain, engaging in regular movement and exercise may feel difficult and unnecessary. But doing so can actually improve your symptoms. 

Before starting a physical exercise regimen, consult with your doctor about what might be the best activities for you and your body.

Examples of mind-body medicine:

  • Tai chi, a mind-body exercise that originated from China, incorporates slow, gentle movements with breathing exercises. A Tufts University study found that osteoarthritis patients who participated in tai chi had greater improvements in pain alleviation than patients who did not participate in tai chi.

  • Yoga comes in many different styles, often engaging both the body and the mind through controlled breathing and stretching. A study from the Journal of Rheumatology found that participation in a yoga program provides relief to patients with osteoarthritis.

  • Aquatic exercises such as swimming and water aerobics strengthen your core. A study found that aquatic exercises contributed significantly to increasing joint flexibility and reducing pain for individuals with rheumatic diseases.

  • Weight management and healthy nutritional intake are key in reducing health risks. A study by researchers in Denmark found that weight management in osteoarthritis patients can lead to significant improvements in symptoms, pain relief, and quality of life.

  • Stress and osteoarthritis are closely connected to each other. A study found that osteoarthritis patients who participated in a meditation program had significant improvements in reducing knee pain, dysfunction, and mood.

Manual Medicine

Manual treatments are administered by certified clinicians, using physical pressure and stimulation on the body to reduce osteoarthritis symptoms. Treatments can vary in intensity and incorporate other elements such as heat and aromatherapy to enhance relief. 

Examples of manual medicine:

  • A widely-adopted Chinese treatment administered by certified acupuncturists who insert very thin needles at strategic points on the body to support overall wellness. A University of Virginia study found that acupuncture is an effective treatment for pain and physical dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis. 

  • Licensed massage therapists use different techniques, like shiatsu, hot stone, and Swedish massage, to provide temporary pain relief. A study determined that massage therapies resulted in significant improvements to pain relief for osteoarthritis patients. 

  • Physical therapy can help with physical strengthening, mobility, and overall functionality. A study conducted by researchers in Sweden found that physical therapy techniques were suitable for addressing musculoskeletal conditions as well as with chronic back pain.

  • Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is a form of manual therapy used by osteopathic physicians (DOs). An article from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association stated that osteopathic manipulation can be used to improve joint stability and lessen pain for individuals with osteoarthritis pain. 

Nutritional Tools

Nutrition plays a crucial role in your overall health, and is a tool you can use to combat joint damage, reduce inflammation, and manage other osteoarthritis symptoms. 

Just like with conventional, mind-body, and manual medicines, there is not one ideal treatment for every osteoarthritis patient. When selecting nutritional tools to treat your condition, it is best to consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian, naturopath, or nutritionist to find out the best diet for you.

Examples of nutritional tools:

  • Anti-inflammatory diets

    • Anti-inflammatory diets include nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants and intend to reduce inflammation in the body.  A popular anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet which has been shown to reduce signs of inflammation.

  • Plant-based diets

    • Vegetarian and vegan diets have shown to promote gut health, which may have an anti-inflammatory impact. A study found that plant-based diets were beneficial for alleviating pain among osteoarthritis patients.

  • Elimination diet

    • While some foods can help reduce symptoms, other foods may trigger them. An elimination diet, which is an eating plan that eliminates certain foods or food groups believed to be causing negative bodily reactions, can help you figure out which foods are triggering those symptoms and bring you closer to your ideal diet.

  • Fish

    • Research suggests that eating fish may reduce joint inflammation for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Fruits and vegetables

    • Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, which support your immune system and may fight inflammation.

  • Nuts

    • Nuts are rich in healthy fat, protein, and fiber, and help fight inflammation.

  • Beans

    • Beans (like red, pinto, navy, and black beans) are rich in fiber and protein, and are full of both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Olive oil

    • This heart-healthy ingredient contains healthy fat, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound.  

  • Onions

    • These simple, flavor-rich vegetables are packed with antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and help control cholesterol levels.

  • Fiber

    • Fiber is found in foods like beans, whole grain breads, and fresh vegetables. It makes you feel fuller for longer and boosts digestive health. It also may help reduce inflammation.

  • Fish oils

    • Fish oils may reduce inflammation. A study found that there patients with rheumatoid arthritis who consumed dietary fish oil as part of their diet reported ideal and improved health status.

  • Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)

    • Gamma linolenic acid is mostly found in plant seed oils like borage seed, evening primrose, and blackcurrant seed oil.     

  • Turmeric

    • Turmeric is a spice from the turmeric plant that has anti-inflammatory properties. A study indicated that turmeric can be used as a source for alleviating chronic pain.

  • Folic acid

    • Folic and folinic acid supplements have been shown to improve liver function and ease gastrointestinal intolerance (the digestive system’s difficulty processing certain foods, which can lead stomach pain and bloating). 

  • Vitamin D

    • Vitamin D supplements are good for bone health, and they can also help keep the immune system functioning properly. A systematic review on research exploring the benefit of vitamin D on chronic pain found that vitamin D supplementation was able to improve pain levels.

  • Antioxidants

    • Antioxidants can help prevent cell damage. A study from the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery found that antioxidants may improve quality of life and reduce pain.

  • Probiotics

    • Studies show that probiotic supplements may help improve gut health and even lead to lower levels of inflammation.

  • Pomegranate

    •  A study demonstrated that the antioxidant quality of pomegranates may ease symptoms such as tender joints.

  • Green tea extract

    • A University of Birmingham study found that green tea extract could be used as a therapeutic for alleviating inflammation for patients with osteoarthritis.

  • [1] Osteoarthritis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351925. Published February 22, 2020. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [2] Zhang Y, Jordan JM. Epidemiology of osteoarthritis [published correction appears in Clin Geriatr Med. 2013 May;29(2):ix]. Clin Geriatr Med. 2010;26(3):355-369. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2010.03.001 
  • [3] Cleveland RJ, Schwartz TA, Prizer LP, et al. Associations of educational attainment, occupation, and community poverty with hip osteoarthritis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2013;65(6):954-961. doi:10.1002/acr.21920 
  • [4] Allen KD, Golightly YM. State of the evidence. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2015;27(3):276-283. doi:10.1097/BOR.0000000000000161 
  • [5] Osteoarthritis. https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/osteoarthritis. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [6] Loef M, Schoones JW, Kloppenburg M, Ioan-Facsinay A. Fatty acids and osteoarthritis: different types, different effects. Joint Bone Spine. 2019;86(4):451-458. doi:10.1016/j.jbspin.2018.07.005 
  • [7] Zhu X, Sang L, Wu D, Rong J, Jiang L. Effectiveness and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Orthop Surg Res. 2018;13(1):170. Published 2018 Jul 6. doi:10.1186/s13018-018-0871-5 
  • [8] OA Prevalence and Burden. (2019, December 23). Retrieved July 9, 2020, from https://oaaction.unc.edu/oa-module/oa-prevalence-and-burden/ 
The information on this page is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.