Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, “By the year 2040, an estimated 78.4 million (25.9% of the projected total adult population) adults aged 18 years and older will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. . .” 

This degenerative condition is the normal wear and tear of the cartilage that acts as a joint shock absorber and prevents bone-on-bone contact. Joint cartilage can harden, crack, and become damaged, leading to bones rubbing against each other and even changing shape. 

From the moment you wake up and slowly ease out of bed to finally being able to sit down after a long day, osteoarthritis can make every moment of your daily life miserable. But the key to mitigating osteoarthritis as you age and maintaining an active lifestyle centers around early detection. 

What are the Early Warning Signs of Osteoarthritis?

Unfortunately, once the cartilage that protects your joints begins to break down, it doesn’t grow back on its own. Pain and soreness are common symptoms of osteoarthritis but being aware of early warning signs can make a huge difference in the extent to which you experience the calling card symptoms of osteoarthritis. Knowing the signs of osteoarthritis can dramatically change your treatment path as well as your daily life. Here are the top 5 signs of osteoarthritis. 

1. Clicking or cracking sounds during movement.

Crepitus, the formal term for the creaking, cracking, and clicking sounds heard during joint movement, can result from bone-on-bone contact. As a joint moves and articulates, the protuberances of the bone can catch, grind, or otherwise come into contact with each other. The sound you are hearing can be your bones grating on each other because there is no cartilage to protect your joint. 

2. Joint stiffness.

Often occurring after bouts of no activity, joint stiffness is a common sign of osteoarthritis. This can include sitting in a car, working at a desk, watching T.V., etc. In most cases, joint stiffness can be alleviated by gently moving and warming up the joint. 

3. Reduced flexibility and limited range of motion.

An early warning sign of osteoarthritis is difficulty moving your joint as easily as you used to. This can be the result of reduced flexibility and limited range of motion. Range of motion is the span in which you can move your joints such as bending forward at waist. Sufferers of osteoarthritis may notice the gradual decrease in range of motion over time. 

4. Joint swelling.

It is normal for a small amount of fluid to exist in joints. But an abnormally large amount of fluid build-up, known as swelling, is a sign of osteoarthritis. Swelling occurs when tissues around the joint produce an excess of fluid surrounding the joint. If the swelling is extreme, the joint may feel warm to the touch.

5. Timing of your symptoms.

While you sleep, your joints are not moving like they do during the day (if at all). This means that fluid and other inflammatory materials can settle around the joint leading to swelling and stiffness when you wake up in the morning. The duration of your morning stiffness can be an indicator of severity and assist in determining the right treatment path for you. 

What Should I Do About Signs of Osteoarthritis?

If you are experiencing some or all of these early warning signs for osteoarthritis, consult with your spine specialist to confirm your suspicions. These early warning signs can manifest gradually over time and even appear intermittently. 

The earlier you take action, the sooner you can get treatment for your pain. Common components of diagnosing osteoarthritis include a physical exam and imaging such as an MRI and x-rays

What are the Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis?

It is important to note that there is no medicinal cure for osteoarthritis. Treatment for osteoarthritis addresses the symptoms such as pain and limited movement. If you are experiencing the early warning signs of osteoarthritis, you may be able to follow a non-surgical treatment path. Non-surgical treatments for osteoarthritis include: 

  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Physical therapy & mobility exercises
  • Joint aspiration
  • Steroid injection

If you have a more severe case of osteoarthritis or have waited to seek medical attention, you may need to consider surgical treatments. Surgical treatments for osteoarthritis can provide pain relief and restore range of motion. While the type of surgery used to osteoarthritis is highly dependent on the affected joint, common surgical treatments for osteoarthritis include arthroscopy, arthroplasty, and spinal fusions. 

The important thing to remember about osteoarthritis is that you can do something about it. Pay attention to these early warning signs of osteoarthritis and seek medical attention early. 

If you think you are experiencing the early warning signs of osteoarthritis, get a head start on finding the right treatment for your situation with our online treatment finder.

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