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Osteo arthritis is a type of arthritis that is caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage of one or more joints. Cartilage is a protein substance that serves as a cushion between the bones of the joints. Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs more frequently with the age. Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, feet, spine, and large weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Most cases of osteoarthritis have no known cause and are referred to as primary osteoarthritis. When the cause of the osteoarthritis is known, the condition is referred to as secondary osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is sometimes abbreviated OA.Primary osteoarthritis is mostly related to aging. With aging, the water content of the cartilage increases, and the protein makeup of cartilage degenerates. Eventually, cartilage begins to degenerate by flaking or forming tiny crevasses. In advanced cases, there is a total loss of cartilage cushion between the bones of the joints. Repetitive use of the worn joints over the years can irritate and inflame the cartilage, causing joint pain and swelling. Loss of the cartilage cushion causes friction between the bones, leading to pain and limitation of joint mobility. Inflammation of the cartilage can also stimulate new bone outgrowths (spurs, also referred to as osteophytes) to form around the joints.
Osteoarthritis occasionally can develop in multiple members of the same family, implying a hereditary (genetic) basis for this condition.Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by another disease or condition. Conditions that can lead to secondary osteoarthritis include obesity, repeated trauma or surgery to the joint structures, abnormal joints at birth (congenital abnormalities), gout,diabetes, and other hormone disorders.Obesity causes osteoarthritis by increasing the mechanical stress on the cartilage. In fact, next to aging, obesity is the most powerful risk factor for osteoarthritis of the knees. The early development of osteoarthritis of the knees among weight lifters is believed to be in part due to their high body weight. Repeated trauma to joint tissues (ligaments, bones, and cartilage) is believed to lead to early osteoarthritis of the knees in soccer players. Interestingly, recent studies have not found an increased risk of osteoarthritis in long-distance runners.Crystal deposits in the cartilage can cause cartilage degeneration and osteoarthritis.Uric acid crystals cause arthritis in gout, while calcium pyrophosphate crystals cause arthritis in pseudogout.Some people are born with abnormally formed joints (congenital abnormalities) that are vulnerable to mechanical wear, causing early degeneration and loss of joint cartilage. Osteoarthritis of the hip joints is commonly related to structural abnormalities of these joints that had been present since birth.Hormone disturbances, such as diabetes and growth hormone disorders, are also associated with early cartilage wear and secondary osteoarthritis.Unlike many other forms of arthritis that are systemic illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus, osteoarthritis does not affect other organs of the body. The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain in the affected joint(s) after repetitive use. Joint pain is usually worse later in the day. There can be swelling, warmth, and creaking of the affected joints. Pain and stiffness of the joints can also occur after long periods of inactivity, for example, sitting in a theater. In severe osteoarthritis, complete loss of cartilage cushion causes friction between bones, causing pain at rest or pain with limited motion.Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from patient to patient. Some patients can be debilitated by their symptoms. On the other hand, others may have remarkably few symptoms in spite of dramatic degeneration of the joints apparent on X-rays. Symptoms also can be intermittent. It is not unusual for patients with osteoarthritis of the finger joints of the hands and knees to have years of pain-free intervals between symptoms.Osteoarthritis of the knees is often associated with excess upper body weight, with obesity, or a history of repeated injury and/or joint surgery. Progressive cartilage degeneration of the knee joints can lead to deformity and outward curvature of the knees referred to as “bowlegged.” Patients with osteoarthritis of the weight-bearing joints (like the knees) can develop a limp. The limping can worsen as more cartilage degenerates. In some patients, the pain, limping, and joint dysfunction may not respond to medications or other conservative measures.
Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine or lumbar spine cause pain in the neck or low back. Bony spurs, called osteophytes, that form along the arthritic spine can irritate spinal nerves, causing severe pain, numbness, and tingling of the affected parts of the body.Osteoarthritis causes the formation of hard, bony enlargements of the small joints of the fingers. Classic bony enlargement of the small joint at the end of the fingers is called a Heberden’s node, named after a very famous British doctor. The bony deformity is a result of the bone spurs from the osteoarthritis in that joint. Another common bony knob (node) occurs at the middle joint of the fingers in many patients with osteoarthritis and is called a Bouchard’s node. Dr. Bouchard was a famous French doctor who also studied arthritis patients in the late 1800s. Heberden’s and Bouchard’s nodes may not be painful, but they are often associated with limitation of motion of the joint. The characteristic appearances of these finger nodes can be helpful in diagnosing osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis of the joint at the base of the big toe of the foot leads to the formation of a bunion. Osteoarthritis of the fingers and the toes may have a genetic basis and can be found in numerous female members of some families.