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Increase your chance of warding off osteoarthritis by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet. Supplements can also help to strengthen bones and protect joints. Ask your doctor about possible benefits of taking calcium plus Vitamin D as well as Glucosamine and Vitamin C.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, a disease that causes degeneration of body joints. Joints are normally surrounded and cushioned by cartilage, a rubbery white tissue layer that helps bones slide smoothly past each other. The synovial membrane, which is filled with fluid, surrounds and "oils" the joint, providing nutrients and oxygen.

Osteoarthritis can develop when cartilage begins to break down. Swelling and inflammation are followed by small dents or depressions appearing on the cartilage surface. Over time, the cartilage loses its rubbery texture making the surface more at risk for tearing and leaving the bone exposed. Bone spurs may then develop which cause more pain and limit joint mobility.

Underlying Causes
As our bodies age, years of wear and tear on joint surfaces begin to take their toll. Previous injuries, such as fractures or tears of the meniscus may increase your risk of having osteoarthritis. Research also shows evidence of a genetic component. Obesity is another factor that may increase your risk due to excessive strain on the lower body joints. Pain is a result of inflammation and pressure on the joint lining (the synovial membrane), as well as from tiny bone fractures.

Symptoms
Swelling, stiffness and pain may be felt in affected joints, especially after prolonged activity. Early on, you may notice symptoms when walking around after a period of sitting still.

Diagnosis
Your doctor will be able to diagnose this condition after hearing the history of your symptoms and after a physical examination of the affected joints. X-rays and an MRI scan will also help determine the condition of the ligaments and cartilage. Your doctor may choose to perform an arthroscopy, which uses a tiny camera at the end of a long tube to look inside a joint.

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Both of these conditions can cause joint pain but osteoarthritis is more likely to occur in people over 50 and is concentrated in one or several joints - usually the fingers, hips, feet, knees and back. It can also be "asymmetric," affecting the knee on one side, while leaving the other intact.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the synovial membrane rather than the cartilage. It is more commonly found in people in their 30's and 40's. It is not as concentrated as osteoarthritis and may spread throughout the body, usually affecting both sides of the body equally.

Treatment
Treatment focuses on lessening pain and inflammation and trying to slow progression of the disease. There is no real cure for osteoarthritis, but there are strategies to alleviate pain and stiffness and allow you to lead a normal life.

Your doctor may recommend the following:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin
  • Physical therapy to help increase range of motion, strength, muscle control and proper alignment of joint
  • Cortisone injections to help relieve pain (a limited option because repeated injections may speed joint degeneration)
  • Hyaluronic acid injections - a new treatment for extended pain relief
  • Moist heat and ultrasound alleviate pain by encouraging blood flow
  • Lifestyle changes such as limiting excessive standing, stair climbing and bending. Low impact exercise like swimming or aerobics can help keep you active

What You Can Do?

  • Exercise regularly to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to help alleviate pressure on joints.
  • Research suggests that eating a balanced diet and taking Glucosamine and Vitamin C may protect joints. Vitamin D and calcium are also important for bone strength. Hormone replacement therapy may encourage healthy joints in women.