Just What Is Arthritis Anyway?

Many health care providers throw out the word arthritis when someone is having joint pain. But just what is arthritis anyway? And what can you do about it?

Technically, arthritis means joint inflammation. (arthro- = joint, -itis = inflammation). There are many types of arthritis. But in the orthopedic world, we typically deal with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the progressive break down of the cartilage in a joint. Cartilage is a flexible material that provides the cushion in a joint, where two bones meet each other. Osteoarthritis can be found in any joint. It is typically graded on a scale of 1-4, where 1 is softening of the cartilage and 4 means there is no cartilage left. Grade 4 is sometimes referred to as ‘bone on bone’. Osteoarthritis is diagnosed by evaluation and an X-ray which can show joint space narrowing, bone spur formation, or change in the shape of the end of the bone. 

Unfortunately, once the cartilage wears away, it does not grow back. However, there are many different ways your orthopedic provider can treat your osteoarthritis. First line therapy usually includes rest, ice, oral anti-inflammatory medications, and activity modification. There are also injection options. Corticosteroid injections can be helpful to decrease inflammation or swelling in a joint fairly quickly. Another type of injection called viscosupplementation is a thick gel-like material that can be injected into the knee to help provide lubrication and decrease inflammation. Viscosupplementation has only been FDA approved for knee joints and is not typically used in other joints. It is usually given as a series of 3 injections over three weeks. There are also bracing options which can help take the stress off of the joints to help relieve pain. 

When conservative measures are no longer helpful, you may need to resort to surgical options. In early osteoarthritis stages, sometimes an arthroscopy can be beneficial to clear away any frayed/unhealthy cartilage or remove any loose bodies in the joint. When you have reached the end stages of osteoarthritis, your best surgical option typically is joint replacement surgery. In a joint replacement surgery, the ends of the bones are resurfaced with metal implants to get rid of the arthritic change. 

At Sports and Orthopedic Specialists, we offer knee and shoulder replacement options. If you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, or you have been having joint pain, call our office for an appointment to be evaluated. We can determine if your joint is developing osteoarthritis, the degree of the arthritic change, and lay out all of your options to determine which is the best for you to get you back to your winning lifestyle.

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Nicole D'Apice PA-C

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