© 2018 OA Knee Pain. All Rights Reserved.

​5 things you're experiencing that may be a result of OA

6th September 2018

Cartilage plays an incredibly important role in joints, being firm and flexible, but softer than bone. Cartilage covers bone surfaces where they intersect and move against each other, to allow smooth joint movement. However, like other parts of the body, cartilage can wear down over time and this can lead to degenerative arthritis, which is also known as osteoarthritis. This condition is one of the most common joint disorders in the Western world.

If you are suffering from osteoarthritis, the condition will progress and get worse over time. It affects around 10 per cent of the population aged more than 60. Osteoarthritis is common in the knee joints, but can also affect the hips, hands and lower back. Over time, those suffering from osteoarthritis will notice a number of symptoms and quality of life could be compromised in a number of ways. If symptoms become more difficult to manage, it could be worth investigating supporting the joints with a healthier diet or support in the form of a brace. Apart from pain, osteoarthritis can lead to other conditions too.

More reliance on painkillers

Osteoarthritis can be painful, and what started as twinges may move into aching that disrupts sleep and daily life. This could lead to an increasing consumption of painkillers, which can also affect general health and introduce issues relating to addiction.

Cartilage is composed of cells called chondrocytes, which create a supportive matrix for the joint consisting of collagen and elastin, among other things. Cartilage gets its nourishment from nutrients that it absorbs from the connective tissue that is found around the cartilage. Unfortunately, cartilage does not have blood vessels of its own, so if damaged, it heals very slowly. Be patient if your osteoarthritis is aching, make sure you eat plenty of healthy fresh food to supply the nutrients that the cartilage needs and avoid stressing the joints in ways that could impair healing or cause further wear.

High doses of painkillers can also take their toll on the liver, which must process them, especially if the patient also drinks alcohol. Some doctors may prescribe NSAIDS, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to combat pain and discomfort, and while these may be useful for acute symptoms, when used long term, they can have side effects that are detrimental to general health. Codeine can help to relieve severe pain, and there is also the risk of physical dependence, as with all opioid medications.

Weight gain

Osteoarthritis can make it difficult and painful to move around, which means less exercise and a slower metabolism. Without exercise and with activities restricted, a slower metabolism may mean that food intake needs to be reduced. For some people, the pain, inconvenience and loss of enjoyable activities could lead to eating more as a way of staving off stress or even boredom. It is easy to put weight on when osteoarthritis starts to affect you. This is undesirable for many reasons, but weight gain should be avoided, as this will add strain to joints such as the knee, which are probably already struggling with loss of cartilage.

Maintaining a sensible and healthy diet is important at all stages of life, but as you get older and develop joint problems, it is essential to give the body all the help it can get from good food and minimising added pounds and the toll they take on challenged cartilage.

Social isolation

There are a number of reasons why osteoarthritis sufferers may find themselves becoming more isolated. The pain from the condition may make it physically harder to them to move around and leave the house. Mentally and emotionally, the pain and struggle can also wear sufferers down, so that they find themselves withdrawing from social situations and staying at home, spending more time alone.

It is always better, of course, to maintain friendships, hobbies and normal activities where possible, as enjoyably interacting with others is a better way to take the mind off the pain of osteoarthritis than comfort eating on your own, or developing a reliance on addictive pain-relieving medication.

Sufferers may not want to ask for help, but they should, where possible, develop a supportive network of friends and relatives who can assist them to maintain an active lifestyle as much as possible. No one wants osteoarthritis patients to suffer in silence, even though many feel that trying to maintain their life, friendships and even work is becoming more and more of a struggle.

It is not just old people either who are affected by osteoarthritis. There are more than 15,000 young people in the UK who are also affected by this debilitating condition. Research indicates, however, that those who have support networks and can ask for and receive help are best able to make the most of the resources that are available.

Stress and frustration

Like any chronic condition, osteoarthritis can take an emotional toll in the form of anxiety and general frustration when faced with the reality that the body and its joints are struggling with tasks that they used to accomplish easily. Frustration can stem from the feeling that independence is being eroded, along with reduced mobility and the knowledge that the condition needs to be managed rather than cured. If osteoarthritis is present in the knees or hips, then it may be difficult to stand, and when the condition affect the hands or thumbs, then carrying out simple tasks around the home can be challenging and time-consuming. All of this takes its toll on the emotions, combined with the worry of not being able to climb the stairs, reach the bathroom in time or even get out of bed. Some sufferers might have to stop work as a result of osteoarthritis and may have to live with the sadness of a career and purpose being cut short, along with possible financial hardship. All of this can be accompanied by a sense of hopelessness stemming from not being fully in control of your body or your life any longer.

Just living with the ongoing pain that usually accompanies osteoarthritis can lead to great frustration.

Depression

Ongoing low mood and depression can also affect those living with osteoarthritis. Reduced mobility, isolation, pain, frustration and feelings of hopelessness can all contribute to feeling as if the condition is overwhelming.

If you have lost motivation to do things or to see people and you find little joy in life, then you may be suffering from depression. The first thing to do is realise that the osteoarthritis and the low mood are nothing to be ashamed of, and you might want to talk to your GP about this.

Although it is probably the last thing you feel like doing, exercise plays an important role in tackling depression, as the act of moving around releases a mixture of chemicals and hormones that make you feel better. Integrated into your lifestyle over the long term, exercise will have beneficial effects on physical health that will, in turn, affect emotional health.

If your symptoms are severe, then it may be necessary to consult your doctor or a physiotherapist to assess what kind of exercise is practical for you. Diet also plays a role in mental health. While feeling low may make you reach for the chocolate biscuits and the crisps, foods like these tend to be low in nutrients and high in sugar and the wrong kind of fat. It may be worthwhile researching what kinds of foods support the health of the body and the joints in particular. While this kind of approach is not a quick fix, some osteoarthritis sufferers can see dramatic progress in the reduction of pain and inflammation. Everyone’s body and its physiology is unique, and embarking on a regime that allows you to test different foods and how your body reacts to them could be beneficial. Even though you could eat anything with no ill effects when you were younger, that does not mean that this is the case going forward. Bodies become more sensitive to inflammation, especially as they age, and you may find that your osteoarthritis flares up when you eat dairy, red meat or gluten, for example. Working out if your body is sensitive to certain foods can be a long process, and may require the support of a nutritionist, but it could be a worthwhile long term.

Another good way to combat depression is to find something to do each day that gives you a sense or enjoyment or fulfilment. If someone is severely depressed, this may take a while, as often, a depressed person feels no joy in doing anything. However, persistence can eventually pay off.

Osteoarthritis is challenging, and can be hard to live with. However, assembling your resources, whether these are people, holistic health measures or support for your joints, will ensure that life with osteoarthritis can be still be enjoyable and rewarding.

Sign up to the OA Knee Pain newsletter