Osteoarthritis, How does it differ from other joint problems?

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Arthritis is one of the most common joint disorders in Britain, affecting 49% of women and 42% of men over the age of 75 years [1]. The condition Osteoarthritis is described in it title, ‘Osteo’ refers to bones, ‘arth’ refers to the joint, and anything ending in the suffix ‘itis’, means that it is a disorder associated with inflammation and swelling.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is exceedingly the most common form of arthritis affecting over 7.3 million people over 45 in the UK. Osteoarthritis is a clinical disorder that is characterised by:

  • Inflammation of the joint
  • Reduced movement
  • Reduced flexibility
  • Clicking and cracking during movement
  • Pain during or after movement [2,3]

Osteoarthritis can effect any synovial joint in the body, mainly the knee, hips, fingers and feet. This can weaken the structures with the joint and cause the bones to grind against one another leading to the aforementioned symptoms.

Bone is metabolically active, this means that it is constantly breaking down and remaking itself to maintain bone and joint structure. The cause of Osteoarthritis includes numerous body parts namely cartilage, bone, the synovial capsule, ligaments and muscle. It has been proposed that despite its painful symptoms Osteoarthritis is actually a method of repair in the synovial joint. Although slow it is effective. Majority of Osteoarthritis is generated by initial trauma, e.g a fall or repetitive movement from sport. The cells associated with an osteoarthritic area are hugely active which means they are attempting to repair this area. However, because of the repetitive movements of daily life or not giving it the time it requires to repair, it can lead to ‘joint failure’ otherwise known as Osteoarthritis [2].

Osteoarthritis can have huge effect on a person’s quality of life and overall health. It can lead to decreased movement due to the pain, which as a result can lead to muscle wastage, weight gain, type 2 diabetes and general fatigue. In addition, to this, it has been calculated that people with Osteoarthritis can experience as many as 30% more falls than a person without Osteoarthritis. This of course can lead to even less mobility. Also, people with Osteoarthritis are 20% more likely to fracture as a result of their fall [3].

The synovial joint is made up of many features that are there to reduce friction and absorb shock. These include the articular cartilage, meniscus and synovial capsule. The articular cartilage covers the ends of the bone, it is a glassy material that absorbs shock and reduces friction between joint forming bones. In a state of Osteoporosis the articular cartilage begins to erode leaving areas of bone exposed to rub against one another and cause pain. Due to this friction small spurs in the existing bone form which calcify and protrude like spears. This makes movement less fluid and more painful. Finally, in the synovial capsule, continual friction begins to inflame the fluid sac, this is called Synovitis [4].

What are the risk factors of Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a multifactorial disease, which means that there are a number of reasons can be the cause of the disease. These include the following:

  • Genetic Factors. It has been shown that 40-60% of risk of the disease is coded for in your genes. This has only been tested on hand, hip and knee Osteoarthritis.
  • Gender, being female puts you at higher risk of developing Osteoarthritis. When the menopausal years begin, hormones change and oestrogen levels in the body begins to drop, this causes a shift in bone composition that can lead to an increased brittleness.
  • Age, Osteoarthritis tends to be a condition associated with the ageing population. This is due to increased wear and tear on the joints.
  • Injury, at a site of injury or previous fall Osteoarthritis is more likely to develop.
  • Repetitive work, certain jobs or sports can, overtime cause a degeneration of the joint [2,4].

What can be done to aid Osteoarthritis?

What needs to be understood is that Osteoarthritis is NOT an inevitable part of ageing, and can be avoided if joints are taken care of. If you already have late staged development of the disease then you will have been prescribed non-steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDs) to cope with the pain among other medications. You will have probably also been advised to lose weight/maintain your weight at a healthy BMI, or to avoid heavy weight bearing exercise. However, many supplements have been used to treat painful and debilitating symptoms of Osteoarthritis.

Why not try Turmeric and Black Pepper/ Ginger / Green Tea?

Many herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties that are incredibly effective at reducing swelling and symptoms of pain. Turmeric and black pepper is one of the most popular supplements on the health market. Its active compounds aim to reduce the enzyme cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2), which is responsible for an inflammatory response. According to a number of studies Curcumin, the active ingredient of Turmeric is effective in the treatment of Osteoarthritis. On the other hand, alternatives are available if you prefer, such as Ginger or Green tea [5].

Why not try Omega 3?

Omega 3 fatty acids include Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega 3 is thought to promote the production of joint lubricant. Additionally, the body uses it is an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling around the affected joint. One animal study took a group prone to symptomatic Osteoarthritis. They found that Omega 3 levels coherent to dietary intakes were effective at reducing disease markers associated with Osteoarthritis [5,6]. Great sources of Omega 3 include fish oil supplements, salmon, sardines or mackerel.

Why not try Glucosamine and Chondroitin ?

You may also see Glucosamine written as Glucosamine Sulfate. The body can produce these by combining sugar (glucose), and amino acid Glutamate to form glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). GAGs are responsible for the foundation of new bone, especially at the sites of repair. Thus when Glucosamine sulfate is taken it is used to accelerate the process of repair. Please note that this is made from shellfish and should not be purchased by anyone with a shellfish allergy.

Chondroitin is very similar, it is an example of a sulphated GAG. These are also used to lubricate the joint and aid repair. Please note this ingredient is not suitable for Vegans or Vegetarians [5].

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  1. Arthritis Research UK. (2016). Osteoarthritis. Available: http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/data-and-statistics/data-by-condition/osteoarthritis.aspx.
  2. National Collaborating Centre for Chronic Conditions . (2007). Osteoarthritis National clinical guideline for the care and management of osteoarthritis in adults. Available: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg59/documents/osteoarthritis-full-version-draft-guidance-for-consultation2.
  3. Arthritis Foundation. (2016). Osteoarthritis Symptoms. Available: http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/symptoms.php.
  4. Nordqvist,C. (2016). Osteoarthritis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. Available: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/osteoarthritis-causes-symptoms-treatments-27871.
  5. Weil. (2008). Bone and Joint, Osteoarthritis. Available: http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/bone-joint/osteoarthritis/.
  6. Knott. L, et-al. (2011). Regulation of osteoarthritis by omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids in a naturally occurring model of disease. Osteoarthritis Cartilage . 19 (9), Pg. 1150-1157.

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