Q: Recently, my knee and hip joints have been aching. I'm wondering if I could have arthritis? - S.P. Martinez
A: It's very possible that you have osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when the rubbery tissue called cartilage that covers the ends of your bones and serves as shock absorbers begins to wear thin. The surface of the cartilage and underlying bones then becomes irregular, and bony outgrowths form. Instead of riding smoothly, joint surfaces rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain and limited range of motion.
According to LeRoy R. Fullerton Jr. a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon on University Hospitals' medical staff, osteoarthritis rarely affects people younger than 40, but nearly everyone has some degree of the disease by age 75. It affects women more frequently than men. The condition typically attacks weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees and feet. Once the disease progresses, it can be diagnosed through a simple X-ray.
The pain associated with advanced osteoarthritis is the most common cause of hip and knee-replacement surgeries. But Dr. Fullerton says the procedure is quite simple, and the results can be remarkable.
While the causes of osteoarthritis are unclear, you are at increased risk if you are 45 or older, female or have injured your joints through physical labor or sports. Symptoms include:
Don't mistake these symptoms for rheumatism. 'If every joint in your body aches, see a rheumatologist. But if you are suffering in an isolated joint, you should see an orthopaedic surgeon,' says Dr. Fullerton. 'He or she can help you manage the pain and discuss options to maintain optimum health and fitness.'
Osteoarthritis is more difficult to treat in obese sufferers, so Dr. Fullerton suggests monitoring your weight and general fitness. Use a cane or walker if needed.
He also suggests treating the pain associated with osteoarthritis by:
Taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin as directed.
Considering new non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory prescription medications. Several now minimize the stomach irritation patients often experienced with earlier prescription drugs.
Treating occasional flare-ups with a cold pack applied several times a day for 10 minutes to reduce the pain. After the acute pain subsides, apply a warm pack in 10-minute intervals several times a day.
According to Dr. Fullerton, about 50 percent of patients seem to get some relief from taking 1,200 milligrams of chondroitin sulfate and 1,000 milligrams of glucosamine every day. They are available in a combined tablet. Drug interactions have not been common based on current data.
If you have a question or would like more information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, University Hospital Seniors Club, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta GA 30909.