Osteoarthritis often remains mild, but certain things can make the disease or its symptoms worsen. Exercise is a mainstay of treatment. Staying as fit as you can will be important in managing this disease.
The major symptom of osteoarthritis is joint pain. Initially, pain occurs with use, is associated with some mild stiffness, and is usually relieved with rest. As the disease progresses, there may also be some loss in the range of motion of the affected joints.
Osteoarthritis most frequently occurs in the hands; next are the knees and hips. The spine is another area that is commonly affected. In the feet, osteoarthritis often occurs in the joint at the base in the big toe.
Along with joint pain, people with osteoarthritis may feel joint stiffness, often in the morning. This stiffness usually only lasts 15 to 20 minutes. This can be medically important in distinguishing between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In rheumatoid arthritis, stiffness may last for hours. Osteoarthritis patients also may experience brief stiffness after inactivity, as riding in a car or sitting in a theater seat.
It is possible to have osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis at the same time, but there are some important differences between them. In osteoarthritis, only a modest amount of inflammation usually occurs. But in rheumatoid arthritis, there tends to be considerably more inflammation. Also, rheumatoid arthritis is systemic. That means it can cause damage throughout the body: in the skin, muscles, blood vessels, eyes and lungs. This is not the case in osteoarthritis.
There are a lot of causes of pain in osteoarthritis. One should understand that the cartilage, itself, does not have any nerves. So it does not actually cause any pain.
When one experiences pain in osteoarthritis, the pain occurs somewhere else besides the cartilage. It is due to the muscles, ligaments, synovial capsule (the sack around the joint), and bone around the joint.
Sometimes, it is hard for people with osteoarthritis to know where the pain is coming from. Pain felt in one part of the body may be caused by osteoarthritis elsewhere. Doctors call this phenomena referred pain. One of the most common problems that rheumatologists see is someone who complains of knee pain when his or her pain is really referred from his or her back or hip. And it is very hard to make the patient understand that even though he/she feels the pain in his/her knees, that is not where the pain is occurring. Rather, it is coming from somewhere else.