Arthritis is a general term that means inflammation of the joints. There are dozens of types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type. It often comes with age, and it often affects the hands, knees, and hips.
The place where 2 bones meet is normally covered with a rubbery material called cartilage. This material allows the bones to slide over each without causing pain. When osteoarthritis sets in, the cartilage begins to break down. As it wears away, the bones in the joint start to rub against each other (figure 1). This can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling (table 1).
To ease your symptoms:
There is no strong evidence that supplements of any sort work on arthritis symptoms. That's true even for glucosamine and chondroitin, which are supplements people seem to think help with arthritis. If you want to try any supplements or herbs, check with your doctor or nurse before taking them.
There are lots of medicines that can help you manage the pain from osteoarthritis. These include pills as well as creams and gels that go on the skin. In some situations, doctors might suggest shots that go into the joint to relieve pain temporarily.
When other treatments do not help enough, some people with osteoarthritis get surgery. For instance, some people have surgery to replace a knee or a hip. Surgeons are working on other types of surgery for arthritis, too.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis can be hard to handle. But don't lose hope. You might need to try different combinations of medicines, exercises, and devices to find the approach that works for you. But most people do find ways to go back to doing many of things they like to do.
This drawing shows a normal knee joint next to a knee joint with osteoarthritis (OA). In the OA joint, the cartilage covering the ends of the bones roughens and becomes thin, while the bone underneath the cartilage grows thicker. Bony growths called "osteophytes" can form. The space between the bones also becomes narrower.
Table 1: Effects of osteoarthritis
|Age when symptoms start|
|Usually after 40|
|Commonly affected body parts|
|Neck and lower back|
|Joint at the base of the thumb|
|Knuckles in the middle and near the tip of the fingers|
|Knuckle at the base of the big toe|
|Less commonly affected body parts|
|Knuckles at the base of the fingers|
|Crackling or clicking sounds in the joints|
|Extra bone growth (for example, knuckles that look swollen or knobby)|
|Decreased range of motion|
|Problems with the alignment of certain joints|
|Tenderness to the touch|
This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or life-style choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.
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