Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It is a joint disease caused by the breakdown of cartilage – the firm, rubbery tissue that cushions bones at joints. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another and cartilage absorbs energy from the shock of physical movement. In OA cartilage breaks down and wears away. As a result, the bones rub together causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. OA may also limit the range of motion in affected joints. Most often, OA develops in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. The disease affects men and women nearly equally. More than 20 million people in the United States have OA. Symptoms tend to appear when individuals are in their fifties and sixties. Symptoms may include joint pain (often a deep, aching pain) that is worsened by movement and improved with rest (in severe cases, a person may experience constant pain), stiffness in the morning or after being inactive for more than 15 minutes, joint swelling, joints that are warm to the touch, crunching or crackling noise when the joint moves (crepitation), limited range of motion, muscle weakness, abnormal growth of bony knobs near joints which cause deformities (such as Heberden’s nodes, in which bumps appear on the outermost finger joints). Contributing causes to OA include wear and tear (which comes with age), obesity, chronic infections or inflammation, trauma, metabolic dysfunctions like elevated insulin and glucose, genetic, and environmental causes like chemical (toxins), and mechanical factors can play a role in its development. There is no single test to diagnose OA, so most doctors use a combination of methods to diagnose the disease and rule out the possibility other causes. A physical exam can show limited range of motion, grating of a joint with motion, joint swelling, and tenderness. An x-ray of affected joints will show loss of the joint space and, in advanced cases, wearing down of the ends of the bone and bone spurs.
A naturopathic approach to treating someone with OA starts with preventive care which includes things like protecting an injured joint from further damage, exercising, losing weight,
avoiding excessive repetitive motions, healthy nutrition. The goals of treatment are to relieve pain, maintain or improve joint mobility, increase the strength of the joints, minimize the disabling effects of the disease and put health back into the joint. Lifestyle approaches, including exercise strengthen, stretch, and relax muscles around affected joint, a low inflammatory meal plan, a meal plan to help the individual achieve optimal body composition, clinical nutrition which may include things such as, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM), Vitamin D, calcium, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory herbs to name a few. Everyone’s nutraceutical plan will be unique to them depending on what the underlying cause(s) are to their OA.