Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 27 million Americans. It is a chronic inflammatory disease that slowly degenerates the protective cartilage in your joints. The most commonly affected joints are the knee, hip, shoulder and thumb. Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary by individual, progress over time and are easiest to treat when treated early.
Watch out for these early signs of osteoarthritis:
- Joint Pain: This is often one of the first signs of osteoarthritis. Joint pain that worsens with activity and is relieved after a period of rest is suggestive of osteoarthritis. Patients may experience mild joint tenderness or debilitating pain that limits activities.
- Swelling: Natural joint fluid serves to cushion and lubricate your joints. When the joint is irritated, extra fluid builds up and causes the joint to swell creating pain and stiffness. Sometimes the swelling can be caused by soft tissue inflammation in the joint.
- Loss of Flexibility: Inflammation, swelling and bone spurs can also limit joint motion. It may become difficult or impossible to fully bend or straighten a joint. This can affect your ability to perform daily activities or engage in sports.
- Abnormal Sensations: The cartilage between your bones acts as a shock absorber and allows smooth joint motion. When this cartilage becomes damaged, abnormal sensations or sounds such as crackling, grating or clicking may be experienced. Sometimes these sensations are associated with pain.
- Joint Stiffness: Joint stiffness is a common early sign of osteoarthritis and may occur after sitting or resting for prolonged periods of time. Stiffness in the morning is also a common early sign. Many times, the stiffness will improve later in the day after you are warmed up.
If you experience any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor. A clinical evaluation that includes a physical examination and diagnostic testing can accurately diagnose the cause of your pain. Early detection will result in more effective treatment.
Several nonsurgical treatments are available to help reduce your pain, increase your activity and allow you to get back to doing the things you love.