The symptoms of osteoarthritis tend to come on slowly and gradually get worse over time. Signs and symptoms of OA include:
- Joint pain during movement or after it.
- Tenderness in your joint when it is lightly touched.
- Stiffness in your joint, especially when you get out of bed in the morning or following a period of inactivity.
- Loss of mobility and flexibility; you may lose the ability to move the joint through its entire range of motion.
- Grating or grinding sensations may be felt or heard when you move the joint.
- Bones spurs, also called osteophytes, are extra little pieces of bone that may develop around the joint. These can sometimes be felt as hard lumps under the skin.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have stiffness or pain in one or more joints that persists for more than a few weeks.
Your physician will perform a physical examination to diagnose osteoarthritis, carefully examining your joints to check for swelling, redness, and tenderness. The healthcare provider will also evaluate the mobility of your joints. In addition, your doctor may recommend imaging tests which may include:
- X-rays: X-rays can reveal bone spurs that have developed around the joints. In addition, narrowing between the joints seen on an x-ray shows that joint cartilage has been lost. Evidence of osteoarthritis is sometimes seen on an x-ray before people have any symptoms of the disease.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This study uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of soft tissues and bones, so cartilage can also be seen on MRI. This test isn’t typically used to diagnose osteoarthritis, but it can provide needed information in particular cases.
Your physician may also order lab tests. There is no blood test to diagnose osteoarthritis, but these tests can help rule out other conditions that cause joint pain.
- Arthrocentesis: During this procedure, a sterile needle is used to draw fluid from the affected joint. Then, the healthcare provider sends obtained fluid to the lab for joint fluid analysis. This test can help rule out infection, gout, and other causes of inflammation.
Osteoarthritis is a chronic and degenerative disease. If left untreated, it causes a gradual deterioration and loss of function in the affected parts of the body. The inflammation and destruction in the joints can eventually cause such severe pain and stiffness that the person cannot complete even simple tasks of daily living.
Prevention of osteoarthritis
Some of the risk factors for osteoarthritis are out of your control. For example, you can’t control your genes or the fact that you become older every day. Still, you can take some steps to decrease your chances of developing the disease or minimize its effect on your life if you already have it. For example, to keep your joints healthy:
- Control your weight: Extra weight on any part of your body stresses your joints. Being overweight also puts you at greater risk for developing diabetes which increases your risk of osteoarthritis.
- Be active: Your joints need strong muscles to support them. If your muscles are weak, your joints will be weak too.
- Protect your joints: Avoid injuries, and if you do injure a joint, get it treated. To protect your joints, be sure to warm up before exercising and cool off after, and try not to run on concrete or asphalt surfaces.
- Eat Healthy: There isn’t a specific diet to prevent osteoarthritis, but certain nutrients have been linked to reduced disease risk. The nutrients to be sure to get enough of in your daily diet include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Sources include fish oil, canola and soybean oil, and olive oil
- Vitamin C: Sources include: Citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens, and broccoli
- Vitamin D: Sources include: Sunlight, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and eggs