Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, with osteoarthritis (OA) being the most common form of arthritis, affecting tens of millions of people worldwide. It is a degenerative disease characterized by the breakdown and eventual loss of joint cartilage.
If you’ve ever eaten a drumstick, you’ve seen cartilage: It is the white (or slightly yellow) smooth surface capping the end of the bone. The surface of normal human cartilage is very slippery—some liken it to a hockey puck sliding on ice, or a wet bar of soap—but it’s far smoother. Cartilage doesn’t have any nerve endings in it, which is why a healthy joint with intact cartilaginous surfaces can move without pain.
In a damaged joint however, the cartilage is worn and degraded. Movement causes the bones to grind against one another, causing pain, stiffness, and inflammation and, eventually, exposing the bone surfaces.
Although osteoarthritis is more common in older people, younger people can develop it, too – usually as the result of a joint injury, a joint malformation, or a genetic defect in joint cartilage. Before age 45, more men than women have osteoarthritis; after age 45, it is more common in women. It is also more likely to occur in people who are overweight and in those with jobs that stress particular joints.
As the population ages, the number of people with osteoarthritis will only grow. By 2030, 20 percent of Americans-about 72 million people-will have passed their 65th birthday and will be at high risk for the disease.
For most people, osteoarthritis develops gradually over a period of years; initially, symptoms may be mild and interfere little with day-to-day life, but as the disease progresses, it can cause significant pain and disability. Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, the good news is that you can live-and live well-with osteoarthritis.
Dr. Grimsley offers his patients with osteoarthritis a combination of approaches tailored to each patient’s needs, lifestyle, and health. His goal is to keep people leading active, productive lives despite their limitations. Most programs include ways to manage pain and improve function, and can involve exercise, weight control, rest and relief from stress on joints, pain relief techniques, medications, and complementary therapies. In severe cases, and after more conservative options have been exhausted, he may suggest the patient have joint replacement surgery. While a prosthetic cannot fully replicate the complexity, intricate engineering, and healing ability of the human body, advances in implant technology have made joint replacement surgery safer, more precise, less painful and longer lasting than ever before.