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What Is Arthritis?

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is considered to be an inflammatory condition that can affect any of the joints in your body. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a “wear and tear” condition, where the articular cartilage in the joint wears away. Articular cartilage is a smooth material that covers joint surfaces. It allows the joint to move smoothly and protects the underlying bone. When this material wears away, the underlying bone is exposed and joint function is impaired.

There are many causes of osteoarthritis, including;

  • Age – older people are more likely to develop arthritis than younger people
  • Weight – a person who carries more weight produces more ground force, therefore your joints are under more stress and can lose articular cartilage more quickly
  • Genetics – your genes determine how much articular cartilage you can produce, and how strong it is. Some people have an increased risk to developing osteoarthritis with certain genetic differences
  • Previous knee injuries – an injury to any joint, even when young, may alter how you use that part of your body. By changing the way you move, forces are transmitted in unusual ways, which is where degeneration can occur
  • Physical Activity – participating in sport or work that is high impact (e.g. jumping, lifting heavy loads) increases your risk for osteoarthritis

Symptoms include;

  • Pain in the joint which may affect sleep
  • Swelling
  • Loss of movement
  • Loss of strength
  • Crackling or grating noise
  • Locking
  • Giving way (if in the lower limb)
  • Reduced ability to walk or perform other daily tasks

You may also notice deformity of the joint, as structural changes occur in response to the arthritic changes.


How is it diagnosed and managed?

Arthritis is often picked up through a subjective examination and physical examination of your joint by a doctor or other health practitioner. The diagnosis will then be confirmed by X-Ray.

It is recommended to seek treatment soon after symptoms begin rather than wait until your function is affected. Studies have shown that by losing weight (if weight is an issue), changing your diet and performing appropriate exercise can slow down the progression of osteoarthritis and even prevent the need for surgery. Conservative physio management has been shown in research to be very effective to avoid or delay the need for surgery in most people.

Once the pain escalates and is affecting sleep and day-to-day function, your GP may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon to discuss the possible need for surgery. Common areas for replacement surgery are your knees, hips and shoulders. The surgery could be a partial joint replacement (where arthritis only affects part of the joint) or a full joint replacement.