Osteoarthritis pain can be very debilitating, is the most common joint disorder, and has unknown causes. It is a condition that is usually seen in older people, in their larger, weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, and spine.
The smooth cartilage lining of a joint begins to flake and crack through age and general wear and tear. As the cartilage deteriorates, the underlying bone can become thickened and distorted. This can make moving the joint so painful and restricted that the associated muscles are used much less. This leads to the degeneration of the unused muscles.
Pain, swelling, and stiffness can occur at intervals of months or years. Although osteoarthritis pain can be found in several joints, it rarely causes symptoms in more than one or two joints at a time. Pain may gradually become so severe that it disturbs sleep and limits everyday activities.
Swelling can vary from being hardly noticeable to making the joint appear extremely knobby and enlarged. Osteoarthritis pain can be felt directly in the affected joint, or it may transmit to other parts of the body in what is known as referred pain. For example, the front of the thigh or knee may be very painful for someone with osteoarthritis in the hip.
X-rays show some degree of osteoarthritis in most people over 40, whether they have symptoms or not. There are no life-threatening risks and it seldom becomes a serious problem. Certain occupations and sports are more often associated with the development of osteoarthritis, such as ballet or football.
Losing weight can help release some of the strain on weight-bearing joints. Resting frequently or using a cane can help ease pain. Heat is often an easy self-help treatment for joint pain. Most importantly, regular exercise prevents the muscles around the affected joints from becoming weak and minimizes symptoms. Physical therapy including exercise, massage and heat treatments are often recommended. Aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve pain, but a doctor can prescribe another painkiller.
For severe osteoarthritis pain, an injection of a corticosteroid drug into the joint can help. However, if it is used too often it can be damaging. Joint replacement through surgery can also be common.