By BruceBlaus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that develops gradually over time and causes pain and stiffness in joints. It is the most common type of joint disease. It affects people from various backgrounds across the globe and at least 8 million people in the UK.
OA usually affects the hands, feet, knees, spine and the hips but it can develop in other joints as well. It is considered 'incurable' but it may settle down after a few years. Following this thinking, the focus is on prevention and management once it develops. In reality, there are few if any irreversible processes in the body, the possibility of total reversal should not be dismissed.
What actually happens in OA sufferers is that the cartilage in the joint becomes rough and brittle. As a compensatory response to reduce the load on the cartilage, the underlying bone gets thicker and broader. Bony outgrowths start developing at the periphery of the joint creating a knobby appearance. The space inside the joint narrows due to a thickening of the synovial membrane and the joint capsule. The joint becomes painful and stiff and sometimes inflamed.
In some cases, a part of the cartilage breaks away from the bone leaving the ends exposed. The rubbing between the bone ends that is likely to happen strains and weakens the ligaments. As a result, the joint shape may change and there may be a lot of pain.
It was believed that OA is a 'wear and tear' condition that develops gradually. As such, it was considered a 'normal' part of ageing. In reality, the process is much more complicated and more likely involves an imbalance between the anabolic (tissue-building) and catabolic (tissue-destroying) processes in the area.
Some suggest that it is not caused by too much exercise. Marathon runners are used as an example of people among which the condition is not more common. This seems like a faulty reasoning. Repetitive injuries are widely accepted as a contributing factor for OA. Running, with the force impact it has on the knees, can be seen as one example of such micro repetitive injury. Therefore, it can indeed be a cause of OA.
Once again, a healthy lifestyle and prevention are essential. Being overweight, suffering numerous injuries, inadequate nutrition, insufficient rest, and stress are all risk factors to be mitigated.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Some of the common symptoms include swelling, a grinding sensation in the joint, pain and stiffness. The stiffness can be more pronounced in the morning and last in the for up to 30 minutes. Movement and exercise usually make the pain worse. Muscle atrophy in the surrounding area can also lead to weakness.
Based on the symptoms and a further examination, a doctor can make a diagnosis. An X-ray or an MRI scan can be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Prevention and healing
Prevalent statements about the condition suggest that it is 'incurable' and there is nothing one can do to completely prevent it. This is rather gloomy and inaccurate. OA can be seen instead of as a disease label as a natural process affecting the human body. As such it is likely to be taking place to an extent in every person. The fact that some people do not exhibit the debilitating symptoms makes it likely that lifestyle, environment and genetics play a critical role.
Some of the behaviours a person can adapt to maintain the process at its natural rate where it doesn't create problems include:
Individuality also needs to be taken into account. Changing one's occupation or sporting activities may be necessary in order to reverse the condition. It is my belief that the behaviours 'preventative' can be refined and perfected to reverse a pathological form of OA.
Martin Stefanov Petkov