Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a degenerative joint disease that affects an estimated 27 million people. It occurs when the cartilage that cushions the bones breaks down, causing pain, swelling and stiffness, primarily in hip and knee joints.
Risk factors for osteoarthritis include excess weight, knee injuries, frequent bending of the knee and excessive strenuous physical activity. The disease progresses slowly over several years, while pain gradually increases and can potentially lead to disability. Early diagnosis can help prevent the severity of the disease, if the patient takes precautionary measures.
The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) found in a recent study that people could reduce their risk or help prevent the onset of osteoarthritis by engaging in light exercise. Thomas M. Link, MD, indicated that high-impact activities such as running at least three times a week or frequent knee bending, can lead to more degenerated cartilage and possibly a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. MRI results of the RSNA study showed that participants who engaged in light exercise had healthier cartilage than those who regularly engaged in strenuous exercises.
MRI scans allow doctors to monitor the progression of the disease and evaluate joint damage. Researchers from Lund University and Harvard Medical School have developed a method to measure the degree of osteoarthritis using an MRI scanner. The method, called dGEMRIC (delayed gadolinium-enhanced MRI of cartilage), allows the disease to be monitored in ways not previously possible. By analyzing the cartilage layers, scientists can unravel the complexities of the disease, leading to new treatments and prevention methods.
Traditionally, osteoarthritis is diagnosed after joint pain and stiffness have become persistent and the joint cartilage damage is found on an xray. By this point, the joint damage is usually severe, and only the symptoms are treated. It is too late to make a difference to attempt to slow the disease. With the new osteoarthritis MRI method, the concentration of molecules known as glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) in the joint cartilage can be determined. Alexej Jerschow, PhD, indicates that the concentration of GAGs goes down in osteoarthritic cartilage, affecting the cartilage tissue’s toughness and elasticity. By monitoring patients over time, researchers can determine what stage the disease is in and if it is starting to affect other joints.
Osteoarthritis generally affects older individuals. It is important to be proactive and protect your joints as early as possible; there are several ways to protect joints and control joint pain. A few of the simple options are:
• Maintain a healthy diet to lose excess weight.
• Aerobic exercises (i.e., swimming, walking and riding a bicycle).
• Strength training exercises such as weightlifting help strengthen muscles that support the joints.
• Range-of-motion activities to keep the joints limber.
• Stretching exercises to increase flexibility and relieve stiff joints.
• Massage to relieve pain and increase blood flow.
• Cold packs and heating pads help relieve aching joints. (Use cold or heat throughout the day for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.)
• Anti-inflammatory medication to help with pain.
• Corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation.
Physicians at Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan work with patients in all stages of osteoarthritis. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of the disease or would like to discuss your risk factors, please contact us at 616-459-7101 for an appointment.
Sources: What You Can Do To Help Prevent Osteoarthritis, Early Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis Possible Using MRI, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), Arthritis Today – New Technology May Enable Early Osteoarthritis Diagnosis, WebMD