Understanding Joint Pain and Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is a word that means ‘inflamed joint’. Arthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions in Australia, affecting nearly 3.5 million Australians. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, and osteoarthritis is the most common.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects 2.1 million Australians. Osteoarthritis is a condition where the cartilage that protects and cushions the ends of the bones within joints is no longer efficiently repaired. As cartilage is gradually lost, the bone previously protected by cartilage gradually loses its normal shape and bony spurs may develop on the edges of the joint. The rough, uneven surfaces rub together causing pain.

Osteoarthritis can occur in many joints, but commonly affects the hands, spine, hips and knees.

What are the symptoms of joint pain/osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis usually slowly gets worse over time. However, the symptoms vary from person to person and the pain may come and go. Common symptoms in the affected joints may include:

  • Pain, particularly after exercise or use
  • Swelling or joint enlargement
  • Stiffness or restricted movement

What are the causes of joint pain/osteoarthritis?

The cause of osteoarthritis is often unknown. Although osteoarthritis is not common in people under the age of 45, it becomes increasingly common with age. It is also more prevalent in women, with two-thirds of those affected female.

Those with a family history of arthritis are more prone to developing osteoarthritis. Increased joint strain through being overweight or from repetitive load-bearing activity can also contribute to osteoarthritis.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see you doctor if you have noticed any of the following:

  • You are experiencing severe, unexplained joint pain and swelling, especially if you have other unexplained symptoms
  • Your joint pain is worse or persisting longer than normal

Lifestyle tips for joint pain

Joint pain/osteoarthritis needs to be actively managed to help you take control of your symptoms. Here are some tips to help make life a little easier:

  • Make exercise part of your daily routine. It’s important to remain active in order to maintain muscle and tendon strength and flexibility. Consult your healthcare professional for advice before starting any exercise program, to ensure it is tailored to your needs.
  • A healthy diet should not only be nutritious, but also help maintain your weight in your ideal range.
  • Hot or cold packs can often help relieve pain. Cold can help reduce swelling, numb pain and is especially good for inflammation. Heat may help improve blood flow, relax stiff joints and improve flexibility. You may find one or the other works better for you. Always take care not to overdo either to the extreme.

Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen or routine.

Often joint pain is more noticeable in one area. If you find your joint pain is more frequent in your knees, you can find more helpful information in the Knee Pain section.

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