More than 50 million American adults, or 1 in 5 people over age 18, have some form of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. And by the year 2040 that number is expected to rise to 78 million.
Arthritis is a general term meaning joint inflammation. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, but the most common type is osteoarthritis, which affects approximately 27 million Americans. Osteoarthritis is a progressive breakdown and erosion of the cartilage in a joint.
Cartilage is a rubbery material that covers the ends of the bones in normal joints. It helps ensure that joint bones don’t rub together. Over time, as cartilage wears away, the joint can no longer function properly. This produces swelling and stiffness, which can impact the tendons and ligaments of the joint causing discomfort. And if the condition worsens, joint bones can rub together.
This can occur in almost any joint in the body, though it occurs most often in the hips, knees and spine.
Aging increases the chances of developing osteoarthritis, though the severity of the disease is different for everyone. Even people in in early stages of life can develop some form of arthritis. Other risk factors include:
• Family history
• Injuries like fractures in the joint
• Overuse of the joint
Mild osteoarthritis can often be treated with conservative measures such as anti-inflammatory medications, weight loss, low-impact exercises, physical therapy and injections. Various holistic remedies may improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis in its early stages.
If conservative treatments do not work and pain or mobility is negatively impacting your quality of life, joint replacement surgery may be considered. More than 1 million Americans receive total joint replacement surgery each year. Hip and knee replacements are the most commonly performed joint replacements, but it can be performed on the shoulder, ankle, wrist and elbow.
During total joint replacement, the surface of the joint — where cartilage has eroded away and bone meets bone — is replaced with an implant to allow smooth movement.
Although advances in technology and medical care have made the procedure safe and effective, there are risks, including blood clots and infections. Most patients can expect to walk, play golf and ride a bike after recovering from surgery, but high-impact sports like distance running are not advised.
The vast majority of patients undergoing contemporary joint replacement achieve excellent results and are able to return to an improved and robust lifestyle.
If you experience chronic knee or hip pain, see your doctor sooner rather than later to learn about your options for treatment.
By Doctor W. Thomas Gutowski, III, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., a board-certified in orthopaedic sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery; a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; and Medical Director of the Jim Craigie Center for Joint Replacement at University Medical Center of Princeton.