Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis and can affect any joints, but it usually occurs in knees, hips, lower back and neck, or in the small joints of the fingers. The normal joints are covered with a rubbery material called cartilage. The cartilage helps with joint motion and acts like a cushion between the bones. OA occurs when the cartilage breaks down, causing pain, swelling and difficulties moving the joints. If OA worsens over time, the bones may break down and develop spurs. OA can develop so much to the point where the cartilage wears away and the bones start ribbing against each other, causing joint damage and more pain.
Osteoarthritis can occur in people of all ages, but it is most common in people over 65 years old. The general risk factors include increasing age, obesity, overuse of the joints and previous joint injuries
The symptoms of osteoarthritis vary, depending on the joints that are affected. OA symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time. The common symptoms of OA are pain and stiffness. The joints that are affected may get swollen, especially after a prolonged activity.
Other symptoms may include sore or stiff joints, especially in areas such as the hips, knees and lower back. You might suffer from a loss of flexibility and not be able to move your joints through its full range of motion. Bone spurs might form around the affected joints. Your joints might start to make clicking or crackling sounds when you bend them and a mild swelling might form around the joint.
It was generally thought that osteoarthritis was caused by the constant effort done with your joints over time, but it is now viewed as a disease of the joint, being able to appear even if you don’t force your joints over time.
Our genes might be directly responsible in some cases for developing OA. In some cases, the body might not produce collagen, the protein from which cartilages are made of. This defect can cause osteoarthritis to occur from a younger age, in some cases as early as age 20. Other studies have found that a gene called FAAH, which is directly linked to increased pain sensitivity, is higher in people with knee OA.
Another cause for developing OA is your weight. The extra body weight puts additional pressure on hips and knees. Carrying that extra weight over the years can cause the cartilage that cushion joints to break faster.
Constant injuries or effort to the joints can cause osteoarthritis. People with careers involving constant effort and who are more exposed to joint injuries, such as athletes tend to maximize the risk of cartilage breakdown.
Other causes for developing Osteoarthritis may include bone and joint disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and metabolic disorders such as hemochromatosis, which causes the body to produce too much growth hormone.
These are the main symptoms and causes for osteoarthritis. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, or consider you have a joint problem, you should consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis.