In this blog we’re going to take a look at a fairly common complaint and one that tends to get people worried – osteoarthritis. This first blog will take a look at what this actually is and how it’s caused, then in the second we’ll look at treatment options.
So what actually is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, or OA, is essentially pain originating from a joint. To break down the word arthritis: arth- = joint, -itis = inflammation (and osteo basically refers to bone). There are several types of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most common and tends to be more commonly associated with wear and tear in joints.
So how does it happen?
First we need to look at the bigger picture. Your muscles have two main functions – moving and offloading joints.
The movement is fairly self-explanatory but what do we mean by offloading? If you’ve seen a super slow-mo replay of well developed athletes you’ll see their muscles tense up as the leg lands. This has several functions:
- Provides a stable platform so they don’t collapse in a heap
- Contractions enable further propulsion for the next step, or helps to slow down if they are decelerating
- Offloads joints – basically any weight the muscles don’t take goes through the passive structures, which includes ligaments and joints
Your cartilage in the joints acts as a cushion but this starts to wear down over time and this means that essentially, it has a shelf-life. Replacing cartilage is seen as the Holy Grail of orthopaedic medicine and, whilst advances have been made, no “natural” joint replacements are currently available.
As it gets worn down there will be an increase in pressure on the bone surfaces which can lead to inflammation – and this is how osteoarthritis is caused.
In the next blog we’ll look at how this is treated.