See how well you understand osteoarthritis and how it’s treated. Below are 5 statements regarding who gets osteoarthritis, possible signs of the condition, and potential treatments.
True or false? The facts about osteoarthritis
1. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis.
It’s estimated that 27 million Americans older than 25 have osteoarthritis 1 Lawrence RC, Felson DT, Helmick CG, et al. Estimates of the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States. Part II. Arthritis Rheum. 2008;58(1):26–35. doi:10.1002/art.23176 , which makes it by far the most common type of arthritis. In fact, despite there being dozens of kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis is often referred to as simply “arthritis.” The joint most often affected by osteoarthritis is the knee.
2. Without a doubt, we know who will develop osteoarthritis.
The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown. There are several known risk factors that raise the chances for developing the condition. These include:
- Being older than age 50
- Having a close relative with a history of osteoarthritis
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a former injury in the affected joint
Having risk factors does not guarantee that a person will eventually develop symptomatic osteoarthritis.
3. Grinding or cracking in a joint is a potential sign of osteoarthritis.
While it’s perfectly normal for a joint to pop or crack occasionally, one that does it consistently may be a sign of osteoarthritis—especially if the popping or cracking is accompanied by pain. Other potential symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Joint pain that gets worse with activity
- Joint stiffness, especially in the morning or after sitting for a while
- Swelling of the joint
- Weakness or instability in the joint
Grinding, creaking, cracking, grating, crunching, or popping that occurs when moving a joint is called crepitus.
4. Cortisone (steroid) injections are the best possible treatment for osteoarthritis.
Cortisone injections can be a good way to temporarily relieve pain, which can allow you to start physical therapy or an exercise routine to strengthen an affected joint. But an injection will not heal the joint damage itself—in fact, it can make damage worse by degrading soft tissues if they are administered too frequently.
In addition, cortisone injections aren’t effective for everyone, and they can cause side effects such as cortisone flares or high blood pressure. They can also raise blood sugar levels, adding extra concerns for people with diabetes.
Cortisone shots can be a great tool for temporary pain relief, but they should be used in conjunction with a larger treatment plan.
5. One of the best treatments for knee osteoarthritis is losing excess weight.
Research shows people who are overweight or obese can reduce their knee pain by losing excess weight. 2 Newberry SJ, FitzGerald J, SooHoo NF, Booth M, Marks J, Motala A, Apaydin E, Chen C, Raaen L, Shanman R, Shekelle PG. Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Knee: An Update Review [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2017 May. Available From http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK447543/. PubMed PMID: 28825779. Why? It may be a matter of mechanics. When a foot hits the ground during walking, the knee experiences 3 lb of pressure for every 1 lb of bodyweight. 3 D’Lima DD, Fregly BJ, Patil S, Steklov N, Colwell CW. Knee joint forces: prediction, measurement, and significance. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Part H, Journal of Engineering in Medicine. 2012;226(2):95-102. , 4 Messier SP, Gutekunst DJ, Davis C, DeVita P. Weight loss reduces knee-joint loads in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2005 Jul;52(7):2026-32. PubMed PMID: 15986358 That means that losing 10 lb can take about 30 lb of pressure off a damaged, arthritic knee with each step.
Losing weight can also decrease inflammation in the body, which may lead to a reduction in joint pain.
Losing weight even has benefits for people who already have knee replacements scheduled. One large study reported that people who were obese and lost 10 pounds have better surgical outcomes—even if they were still considered obese after their weight loss. 5 Keeney BJ, Austin DC, Jevsevar DS. Preoperative Weight Loss for Morbidly Obese Patients Undergoing Total Knee Arthroplasty. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 2019 Aug 21; 101 (16): 1440. DOI 10.2106/JBJS.18.01136