My knee pain started in my late 20s. I was overweight and the pain didn’t exactly encourage me to keep moving. Now, more than a decade later, the osteoarthritis (OA) in my knees is much worse. Other than pain and stiffness, it is the grinding that bothers me the most. I know that I will probably need a knee replacement eventually.
When you have OA, your joints ache. You feel stiff. Your knees creak and squeak like an unoiled Tin Man. Your hips tell you when it’s going to rain, and the pain is deep and consuming.
The term “arthritis” characterizes more than 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions ranging from Lyme disease to autoimmune diseases such as lupus. When most people refer to arthritis, they are usually referring to OA, the most common form of arthritis, which affects 27 million people and is the leading cause of disability in the United States.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that OA only affects seniors. When it comes to this disease, it affects people of all ages.
Also known as the wear-and-tear form of arthritis, OA is a degenerative joint disease that affects cartilage, joint lining, ligaments and bone. It can cause joint pain, swelling, tenderness and stiffness, and can restrict joint mobility. It commonly affects joints at the ends of the finger and thumb, also in the knees, hips, hands, neck and back.
Who gets it?
OA has many contributing factors beyond wear and tear that determines who get the disease and when:
- Age: OA is a disease often associated with aging because over time, many seniors develop the disease because time has a way of wearing away the cartilage in the joints
- Gender: After age 55, women are more likely than men to have OA
- Genes: OA in the hands, in particular, is more closely associated with genetics. Also, certain genetic defects in cartilage can lead to OA
- Injury and Overuse: Activities that impact and cause injury to the joints, such as playing sports, or soft tissue injury, such as ACL tears, can increase chances of developing OA, even at a young age. Also, jobs that require repetitive motion and heavy lifting can increase the odds of developing OA
- Weight: Being overweight or obese can cause significant wear and tear on the weight-bearing joints especially in the knees, hips, ankles and feet
It is better to treat OA early because the pain and damage to the affected joint can progress over time. Treatment options, which depend on the severity of the joint damage, include taking anti-inflammatory medications, reducing body weight, exercise to strengthen muscles that support the joint, arthroscopy and as a final option — joint replacement surgery.