Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative bone condition that can affect any joint in the body, but the most common areas affected are the knees, hips and small joints in the hands. Often the symptoms appear in one joint or a few joints at any one time.

Often referred to as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis the main symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness in your joints. Whilst symptoms may come and go in episodes in the early stages, in severe cases the level of pain can greatly restrict normal life and everyday activities and has a significant impact on quality of life. In cases of severe Osteoarthritis, the symptoms can be continuous and persistent and will require treatment

Whilst there is no cure for osteoarthritis, it can be managed to reduce and alleviate the pain associated with the condition.

  • Pain, during or after movement or, when you have not moved your joints for a period of time
  • Joint stiffness
  • Joint tenderness, particularly when light pressure is applied
  • Limited range of movement in your joints and loss of flexibility
  • A grating sensation in your joints when movement occurs
  • Joints may appear larger or more bone spurs (lumps) appear, on or around the joints

Generally the condition is prevalent in older people, as with age the cartilage that cushions joints wears down and becomes thinner. The joint surfaces then become damaged and inflamed, and pain occurs when the joint then moves and bone begins to grate on bone. 

It is recommended that you seek expert advice if you have persistent symptoms, in order to confirm a diagnosis and undertake any necessary treatment.

To make a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, examinations will be based on your symptoms, a physical examination and possibly an X-ray. In some instances you may have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan which will show the soft tissues and identify changes in the bone that are not visible on a standard x-ray.

There is no blood test for osteoarthritis but they can be used to rule out other conditions.

It is important to engage on-going monitoring of any key symptoms and impact of the condition on everyday activities.  To help general management of symptoms it is advisable to engage in exercise as a core treatment, specifically;

  • Muscle strengthening
  • General aerobic fitness
  • Stretching and manipulation of joints and muscles

It is also recommended that if weight is kept under control by committing to a healthy diet and exercise plan, the pressure on joints can be reduced and symptoms eased.

Whilst it is highly recommended that you seek professional medical advice before taking any medications, in some instances paracetamol and/or topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or corticosteroid injections can help reduce or manage inflammation and joint pain.

  • Joint surgery

When osteoarthritis reaches a severe stage, surgical intervention is necessary and joint replacement surgery under the care of an Orthopaedic surgeon is the best option.

This involves removal of the damaged joint (knee, hip and shoulder) and putting in a new one. The level of aftercare and commitment to a programme of post-surgery rehabilitation is very important to the success of any joint surgery.

MRI scan

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a special technique that uses powerful magnets, radio waves and computers to produce detailed images (or scans) of the inside of your body.

X-ray

An X-ray is used to diagnose and explore a wide variety of conditions mostly in the bones and joints, but can sometimes look at problems affecting soft tissues. They can also be used to monitor on-going conditions.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.