Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis affecting an estimated 20+ million people within the United States. It is a chronic degenerative joint condition that results from the progressive breakdown and deterioration of cartilage and underlying bone within affected joints. While osteoarthritis can develop in any joint, the most common areas where osteoarthritis develops include the spine, hips, knees and hands.
Cartilage covers bones within joints and acts as a lubricant or shock absorber and protectant of the underlying bones within joints. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage covering the bones within joints breaks down and is lost. As a consequence, the bones within the affected joints can begin rubbing directly against themselves. Bones are much more brittle than cartilage, and the rubbing of bone against bone is very abrasive and causes not only continued wearing down of the bones of the affected joints, but significant inflammation, pain, stiffness and discomfort. As the pain becomes more and more common, intense and constant, the affected individual is in jeopardy of suffering significant loss of range of motion and even muscle loss due to reduced limb use.
There are various approaches to the treatment/management of osteoarthritis including, patient education, weight loss (in over-weight individuals), moderate exercise, medication and, in extreme cases, surgery such as joint replacement. There has even been some reported success with transferring a patient’s cartilage from a non-weight-bearing area of the affected individual’s body to the damaged area.
The main approach to treatment for osteoarthritis is the relief of pain, The first line medication recommended for the treatment of osteoarthritis is acetaminophen, especially in mild cases of discomfort. However, a recent systematic review of the literature revealed that acetaminophen only provided a small, short-term relief of the pain associated with osteoarthritis (Machado et al, British Medical Journal, 350 h1225 , 2015). A more effective treatment approach, especially for more severe symptoms, may be to use one of the many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or COX-2 inhibitors (e.g., celecoxib) currently on the market. However, caution needs to be exercised as long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to an increased risk of developing a number of serious medical problems including an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes or the development of gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney degeneration and/or ulcers. There are also a number of other medicinal remedies available, but for many their effectiveness is still open to debate. It is, therefore, important to consult your physician or orthopedist about the best course of treatment for your particular symptoms and medical history.
There are also substantial ongoing research efforts to identify more effective and/or safer medications for the treatment of osteoarthritis. The main focus continues to be on the relief of pain. However, there are also studies that have and continue to attempt to slow the progression of the degeneration to the cartilage within affected joints (see, for example, strontium ranelate which is currently approved for the treatment of osteoarthritis and the biophosphonates).
To learn more about the types of research studies targeting osteoarthritis that are currently being conducted in your area, consider searching the web at such sites as ClinicaTrials.gov or CenterWatch.com. More targeted regional searches are also available. For example, for those living within the New York City Metropolitan Area you can also search such keyword terms as Clinical Trials NYC. You can also search for ongoing osteoarthritis clinical trials using such keywords as Osteoarthritis Clinical Trials NYC or even refine your search further to target a specific borough, such as Osteoarthritis Studies Brooklyn.
Regardless of whether you take one of the standard approaches to treatment or want to consider something new, it is important to keep in mind that the road to relief starts with you. There is no reason to suffer unnecessarily when there are treatment options available to you. So… don’t delay. One of your most valuable assets is your quality of life. It’s up to you to make the most of it.