Dr. Dollinger: Osteoarthritis

Many claim that their joints can predict a change in the weather. Often, this could be due to joint sensitivity caused by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis: “osteo-” means “bone,” “arth-” means “joint,” and “-itis” means “inflammation.” Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that usually comes with age. The unfortunate part about osteoarthritis is that doctors and scientists do not fully understand what actually causes it. What they do know is that cartilage is a very specific type of tissue in your body, so once it is gone, there is no making more of it.

When cartilage is healthy, it is nice and smooth, cushioning the bones that form the joint. Together with the synovium (an envelope that surrounds the joint), they cut down on friction and lubricate the joint. When the cartilage and synovium are not nice and smooth, there are typically two causes: normal aging or injury. In either case, the cartilage no longer properly does its job, which causes the joint to not move correctly, which puts stress on the bones, which causes inflammation and the synovium creates more fluid, which causes swelling. Whew! Joints like the hips, knees, spine, and ankles are particularly vulnerable to wear and tear. This results in joint weakness, stiffness (especially when you first wake up and after sitting for a long length of time), crunching, and grating (especially when walking up stairs).

So how do we treat it? Well, I like to keep it simple and start with medication. This could be an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen or Aleve, or a prescription for something stronger. These medications tend to work pretty well, but, like all drugs, they also have side effects, such as increased blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and strain on the kidneys.

In addition to anti-inflammatories, there are cortisone injections, which also work fairly well, and are administered every six months or so. One of the newer treatments are hyaluronic acid injections, which work in the same way as the synovial fluid, producing exciting results for many people. The catch is, however, that the FDA has approved these injections only for the knee. Of course, traditional splints, canes, and walkers can provide support and relief from certain symptoms, as well. Lastly, surgery, either to fuse the joint or to replace the joint, may ultimately be needed to ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

The most important principle is: if you continue to use your joints, you stand a better chance of not losing them too early on in life. So, if you find that you are getting too good at predicting impending thunderstorms, it might be time to talk to your doctor about what could work best for you in order to preserve your joint function and keep you on the move!

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

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