Understanding and living with osteoarthritis

Healthy joints make happy people who move freely. If you or someone you know has osteoarthritis, you’ve witnessed the kind of pain that can derail daily activities.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it occurs when the cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. The symptoms usually develop gradually. At first, there may be soreness or stiffness that seems more like a nuisance than a medical concern. But paying attention now can help you avoid pain later.

Common symptoms include:

  • Sore or stiff joints – particularly the hips, knees, and lower back – after inactivity or overuse
  • Stiffness after resting that goes away after movement
  • Pain that is worse after activity or toward the end of the day.

Osteoarthritis, or OA, may also affect the neck, small finger joints, the base of the thumb, ankle, and big toe. The pain may be moderate and come and go without affecting the ability to perform daily tasks.  Some people’s osteoarthritis will never progress past this early stage. For others, the pain and stiffness of more severe osteoarthritis may make it difficult to walk, climb stairs, sleep, or perform other daily tasks.

Staying physically active and maintaining a healthy weight are the keys to living well with osteoarthritis. Too little movement can lead to stiffness and weak joints. To prevent and manage osteoarthritis, it’s important to get a good balance of rest and activity each day.

Here are additional tips to help you prevent or slow down the progression of osteoarthritis:

1. Physical therapy. Studies consistently support the benefits of an evaluation by a physical therapist and instruction in appropriate exercise to reduce pain and improve movement.

2. Aerobic, muscle-strengthening and water-based exercises. A good exercise program promotes muscle strength, improves range of motion, increases mobility and eases pain. If you have painful joints, there are a number of ways you can keep exercising and protect your joints. You might explore swimming, water aerobics, chair yoga, gentle yoga and Tai Chi.

3. Weight loss. Maintaining your recommended weight, or losing weight if you are overweight, can lessen your pain by reducing stress on your affected joints. This is especially important to ease pressure on weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees.

4. Walking aids. Canes and walking poles can reduce pain in hip and knee or OA. Ever seen people hiking with Nordic poles? It’s a different kind of workout that can take some pressure off your joints.

5. Footwear and insoles. If osteoarthritis affects the knee, special footwear and insoles can reduce pain and improve walking.

6. Knee braces. For osteoarthritis with associated knee instability, a knee brace can reduce pain, improve stability and reduce the risk of falling.

7. Heat and cool. The heat of a warm bath, heat pack or paraffin bath eases joint pain. Others find relief in cold packs. Still others prefer alternating the two.

8. Medication. Pain relievers, particularly NSAIDs, can be used to reduce inflammation and help get you active enough to exercise. Topical creams are also used to help you move more and ease discomfort.

If you’d like help getting started with a safe exercise program that will strengthen your muscles and protect your joints, contact the Wolfson Health and Wellness CenterBaptist Health and JOI Rehabilitation, or the Y Healthy Living Center.

If you have a joint injury or concerns about long-term osteoarthritis pain, please contact Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute, with locations across northeast Florida.

Read about new surgical options for people with advanced osteoarthritis.

Knee replacement | Hip replacement | Joint health

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