Feeling the Strain of Osteoarthritis

10 Mar 2016
POSTED BY Y Magazine
One in two adults will develop symptoms of osteoarthritis during their lifetime and there is no cure

Experiencing stiffness and pain in your low back, hips and knees, fatigue after exercise, or have inflammation in your hands? These all could be a sign of osteoarthritis, which affects millions of people across the world. Some of the world’s most famous athletes, including Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill and Olympic cyclist Kristin Armstrong, have been afflicted with this debilitating condition.

According to the US-based Arthritis Foundation, one in two adults develops symptoms of osteoarthritis during their lifetime; with one in four adults manifesting symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hips after the age of 85. Statistics also show that one in 12 people over the age of 60 have osteoarthritis in the hands.

“Osteoarthritis is the most common forms of arthritis, and is caused by the wear and tear of joints resulting from damage to the cartilage,” explains Dr Mohamed M Aboyoussef, consultant of rheumatology, at Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi.

“The symptoms of the condition include pain, stiffness and swelling caused by the bones rubbing or grinding against each other.  This condition generally affects the knees, hips, neck, back, big toes and hands. Some of the risk factors for the condition include increasing age, genetic factors, obesity, overuse of joints, or previous joint damage caused by sports injuries.”

According to Dr Aboyoussef, osteoarthritis is common in the UAE and wider Gulf region, especially in patients in their late 40s, and increases significantly with older age. “The reasons range from obesity to genetic factors, smoking and lack of adequate exercises. Younger people who start exercising without proper instruction may also hurt their knees or back, as they are unaware of how to protect their joints [or] have poor posture,” he adds.

Considered a chronic condition, osteoarthritis doesn’t have any cure.

However, there are many options to control the symptoms and limit progression:

  • Lifestyle modifications, including regular exercise, nutrition, weight management and anti-inflammatory medications, can keep the symptoms in check.
  • Doctors often prescribe analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid injections to lubricate the joints, according to Dr Aboyoussef.
  • Exercise and physical therapy is especially important to help improve flexibility, maintain range of motion, strengthen the tissue around joints and aid overall fitness. Doctors or therapists may also prescribe the use of devices such as canes, splints, shoe orthotics and knee braces to aid mobility and provide support. Cold and heat therapy can also be used to alleviate pain in patients.
  • Surgery may be recommended to increase range of motion and pain relief, especially if joint pain from osteoarthritis is unmanageable. The type of surgery is also based on the patient’s age, fitness levels and overall health of the joint.

“Some of the surgical options include arthroscopy, which is surgery to fix small tears in the tissues around joints such as the knee, hip, shoulder,” says Dr Aboyoussef.

“The surgery is done using tiny incisions, a small camera and specialised equipment to repair, or remove damaged cartilage. Joint resurfacing, also called partial knee replacement, is an option where doctors replace only a part of the knee, or hip with an implant.

More severe joint damage is treated with arthrodesis, which is also called “fusion” surgery. Pins, plates or rods are used during surgery to join bones in the ankles, wrists, or spine, to form a continuous joint. In time, the bones grow together and set the joint in place.

Damaged joints can also be replaced with implants made from metal, plastic or ceramic during a total joint replacement procedure. Joint revision surgery may also be required to replace old or worn implants. Minimally invasive total joint replacement is also preferred, as it offers quicker recovery time and less pain compared to the conventional procedure.

Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi has a state-of-the art orthopedic centre that specialises in a multi-disciplinary approach to treating joint and bone diseases.

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