Dr. Samarjit Khanikar
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that affects cartilage, the rubbery cushion covering bones in the joints, keeping them flexible. Over time, cartilage begins to stiffen and damages more easily -- and gradually it loses its "shock absorber" qualities. Bones start rubbing against each other, and the pain begins. Osteoarthritis most commonly involves knee joint. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include: Pain where joint may hurt during or after movement, Tenderness, Stiffness, Loss of flexibility, grating sensation, bone spurs. OA of the knee takes several years to develop, and it progresses in stages. In stage one patient may or may not feel pain, XRAY findings are minimal. But as it progresses to stage four, pain becomes severe. As a result, there is stiffness in the joint, constant inflammation, and less fluid around the joint. There is more friction in the joint and more significant pain and discomfort while moving. In severe cases, the bones may become deformed and angulated because of asymmetric loss of cartilage.
By nature, women are at higher risk of osteoarthritis when it comes to arthritis. Higher risks are due to biology, genetic predisposition, and hormones. Unfortunately, a lot of women have added a fourth risk factor to the mix —obesity. Women's bodies are designed to give birth, and that means the tendons in their lower body are more elastic than men's. As a result, the joints move around a little more. When the joints have less stability, they're more prone to injury. Because women's hips are wider than their knees, their knee joints are not aligned as straight as men's. The alignment of a woman's body leads to a higher rate of knee injuries, and injuries can lead to osteoarthritis later in life. Osteoarthritis runs in families. Experts have found that the female hormone estrogen protects cartilage from getting damaged which can lead to osteoarthritis. But after menopause, when women's estrogens levels go down, they lose that protection and may have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis even if they are on hormone-replacement therapy (HRT).
Maintaining a healthful weight: Excess weight puts extra pressure on the knees andvOver time, this contributes to wearing down the cartilage. Extra fat can also cause the body to produce cytokines, a type of protein. This can lead to widespread inflammation, and it can change the way that cartilage cells work. Maintaining a balanced weight helps prevent this.
Controlling blood sugar: High glucose levels can affect the structure and function of cartilage, and diabetes increases the risk of inflammation and cartilage loss.
Exercising regularly: Moderate exercise can help the joints stay flexible, strengthen the muscles that support the knees, and reduce the risk of many health conditions. It may help to garden, walk, or swim for 30 minutes at a time, five times a week.
Reducing the risk of injury: Cartilage that sustains damage from an injury is more likely to develop arthritis later. Reducing the risk of falling at home by wearing shoes that fit well, and using protective gear while playing sports can help prevent injury.
Avoiding overuse: Some sports or professions involve repetitive motions of the knee joint, such as kneeling or squatting. Varying activities and getting enough rest between periods of work or exercise may help.
Getting help: To prevent OA from advancing, ask a doctor for advice about treatment and lifestyle changes when discomfort starts.
Eating a healthful diet, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying active all contribute to better overall well-being and a decreased risk of health issues, including OA.
"In a country like India most of the patients come to doctor at an advanced stage of arthritis. Many of them come with a deformed mal-aligned knee. In initial stages patients can get relief by doing physiotherapy to develop muscle power, taking painkillers ( under strict supervision of doctors), taking supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, however once the disease advances chances of pain relief with medications decreases. Many patients get relief with injection of hyaluronic acid along with steroid into the joint. But once all conservative treatment fails, it becomes very difficult for the patient to do daily activities and they become dependent on painkillers. This is the stage where surgeons have to offer the option of knee replacement surgery."
(Dr. Samarjit Khanikar, M.S., Orthopaedic Surgery, is a Consultant in Narayana Superspeciality Hospitals, Guwahati.)