Symptoms of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis can cause substantial disability. Over 7 million Americans are limited in their ability to participate in daily activities such as going to work or maintaining an independent life, simply because of osteoarthritis. The risk of disability (defined as needing help in climbing a stairs or walking) is as great in those with osteoarthritis of the knee as those with heart disease. It is estimated, that by 2020 nearly12 million Americans will be affected.
Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis
When There Are No Symptoms
Although most patients report pain and physical disability as their joint deteriorates, some remain asymptomatic (no symptoms). The reason for this remain unknown.
Typically a person diagnosed with osteoarthritis will first present at their doctor complaining of joint pain. Every year, 25 percent of the population over the age of 55 experience an episode of persistent knee pain. 1 in 6 of these will consult a doctor, and of these, 50 percent will be diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee. Symptomatic knee osteoarthritis effects about 12 percent of all those aged over 55. However, while osteoarthritis of the knee is common, it is even more common in the hands. In all cases, joint pain is commonly described as:
Painful: Pain occurs with activity. The pain is described as deep and aching. Pain at rest is a sign of advanced stages of the disease. Sometimes there may be referred pain - this means, pain not in the joint itself but pain in nearby areas. People with hip osteoarthritis for example often experience pain in the knees, or less commonly in the buttocks and thighs.
Stiffness: While joint stiffness is associated more with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it can occur with osteoarthritis after a period of inactivity, like sleeping. However it is usually shorter lived (less than an hour as opposed to several hours with RA). The medical term for this stiffness is gelling. Compare with, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Instability: Muscles around the joint can weaken. The joint can buckle and give way suddenly.
The joints may shift out of place, causing a deformity of the knee, hands or hips. If this occurs in the hip, the person’s walk (gait) will change. Osteoarthritis of the knee can lead to an outward curvature of the knee, people with this condition are called bow legged. Or if they don’t become bow legged, they may develop a limp. The most common type of deformity associated with osteoarthritis is Heberden’s nodes and Bouchard’s nodes. These are growths of bones (bone spurs) that occur on the joints of the fingers. They may be painful in the first year or two as they grow, but eventually the hands will be pain free, although they remain permanently disfigured and knobbly. Both types of nodes are more common in post-menopausal women. If a joint shifts out of place on the big toe, the toe leans inwards, it is called a bunion. Although bunions can be caused by arthritis, typically bunions are more likely to be the result of squeezing your feet into high heels.
As the joint becomes progressively diseased, you may find it increasingly difficult to move it as you used to. For example, arthritis in the shoulder can make it difficult to move your arm in a complete 360 degree circular movement. Or you may find that the joint locks into place when you stretch it, and it can be difficult to return to a rest position.
Cracking And Creaking
The cracking or creaking sound associated with joint movement is called crepitus. An occasional creak, crack or popping noise which is not accompanied by pain, is normal and does not indicate a problem. If it occurs regularly and is painful, this may be a sign of osteoarthritis. The sound of crepitus can be soft, but if you place your hand on the joint when moving it, you will feel a crunching sensation.
What Are The Early Signs?
By the time most people receive an osteoarthritis diagnosis, joint damage has already occurred (and once the cartilage of a joint starts to disintegrate, there is no turning the clock back). Arthritis of the hands may provide some earlier clues however. Clumsy thumb movement and coordination can be an early sign. Hand gripping or problems twisting objects are signs to look out for. New problems gripping jar lids, turning a key or twisting bottle caps may indicate a basilar joint problem (the joint where the thumb meets the wrist).
Does Weather Influence Joint Pain?
Many people with osteoarthritis believe that the weather can influence joint pain, although there is little scientific evidence at this time to confirm it. Some researchers speculate that different temperatures and humidity may alter the amount of synovial fluid in the joints. Cold weather in particular seems to exacerbate pain. Literally, patients feel it in their bones. While the mechanical understanding may not be fully understood, for many patients who think the weather can influence their symptoms, the effects seem to be real.