Published on August 04, 2022

A mature woman exercising in the pool.

Consult your provider for joint issues that may lead to osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease affects 32.5 million people, or one in seven adults in the United States.

"Symptoms of osteoarthritis typically appear from middle age to older adulthood and include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, achiness and reduced range of motion," said Jesus Casas, MD, internal medicine physician with ProHealth Medical Group. "Discomfort and mobility issues from osteoarthritis can have a major impact on quality of life, including social and family relationships."

Common risk factors for osteoarthritis include injury, overuse and repetitive use of joints, as well as age, obesity and genetics. Women are at greater risk for the disease than men, and Asian populations have a lower risk than other populations.

Osteoarthritis affects the entire joint, impacting the connective tissue as well as the bones. It results from a deterioration and inflammation in the joint along with breakdown in cartilage, which is the flexible, cushioning tissue that protects joints during activity.

"Osteoarthritis is degenerative disease that typically develops slowly and worsens over time," Dr. Casas said. "Ongoing stress on an impacted joint and obesity can heighten symptoms, and a lack of physical activity can make osteoarthritis worse."

The disease is most prevalent in the hands, knees and hips. Unlike other forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects one side of the body either independently or to a lesser or greater degree than the other.

In comparison, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory and autoimmune condition that typically affects joints on both sides of the body equally. Severe rheumatoid arthritis can affect the organs and cause other health care issues as well.

The best way to address joint pain and other symptoms is to talk to your health care provider. Let your provider know when you first notice that your symptoms occur often and cannot be resolved by limited use of over-the-counter medications. It’s also important to tell your provider when joint symptoms intensify.

During your consultation, you will receive a physical examination and can discuss your symptoms and plan of care. In some cases, your provider may order an X-ray to rule out other conditions such as a fracture or dislocation.

Your provider can recommend a number of ways to improve function and lower your discomfort. The first line of defense includes low-impact activities, periodic rest and over-the-counter medication taken as recommended. Low-impact yoga, swimming, walking and bicycling can help maintain function and decrease symptoms.

Physical therapy also can be beneficial for strengthening muscles, which can alleviate symptoms and increase mobility. Weight loss is recommended for people who are overweight. In some cases, a provider may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

When symptoms and function cannot be improved with therapy and other recommendations, your provider may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon for an evaluation and discussion of additional options.

Don’t let lasting joint pain affect your activities and quality of life. Tell your provider. By partnering with your provider, you can move forward in addressing joint issues with more effective self-care and treatment.