Do you have pain and stiffness in your joints? Have you noticed swelling or a loss of flexibility at those same sites? If the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” then you may be suffering from the early signs of osteoarthritis.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis affects approximately 27 million Americans, making it the most common chronic condition in the nation.

In healthy joints, cartilage covers the connections between the bones, protecting them from rubbing against each other as you move. As you develop signs of osteoarthritis, cartilage begins to breakdown, causing friction between the bones. Unfortunately, as a degenerative disease, it will generally advance, leading to increased difficulty as you age.

Who can Develop Osteoarthritis?

Anyone of any age can develop osteoarthritis. However, it is most prevalent in people over the age of 65. Genetic factors and previous injuries can contribute to early-onset, as can obesity, which puts the joints under additional strain.

What are the Signs of Osteoarthritis?

In the early stages, you may only notice some discomfort and stiffness in the affected joints. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases notes that you are most likely to notice these symptoms in your hands, knees, hips, or spine, as they are the most common areas affected by the disease.

It is true that some discomfort and stiffness can occur normally, so don’t panic. However, if you regularly notice an increase in stiffness when you first wake up in the morning or after staying in one position for an extended time, then there is an increased chance that your symptoms could be linked to this degenerative condition.

As the cartilage continues to break down, bone spurs may begin to form in an effort to protect the area. Other parts of the bone may also break off in small pieces as a result of friction. All of these injuries will trigger an inflammatory response, causing swelling at the site of degeneration. Of all these symptoms, the most obvious will be the pain, which will increase as the disease progresses.

Spinal Osteoarthritis

Of all the regions primarily affected by osteoarthritis, the most painful and debilitating is the spine. In the case of spinal osteoarthritis, it isn’t just the cartilage and bone that are at stake. As the key protective layer surrounding your spinal cord, the breakdown of cartilage in your spine can be excruciating.

Essentially, as the premier LA neurosurgeon Dr. Yashar explains, as the cartilage separating your vertebra breaks down, it can cause a “pinched nerve” effect. As a result, the early stages of your osteoarthritis may be a bit different. Still, watch for pain or swelling, but also pay attention if you experience any tingling, numbness, or muscle fatigue in your extremities.

Treating Osteoarthritis

Despite the initial grim outlook of being diagnosed with a degenerative disease, there are a number of treatment options. The Mayo Clinic organizes these into four basic categories.

1. Medication

Dr. Yashar may use medication to treat your pain and any swelling you are experiencing. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are both common; although, he may opt for something slightly stronger if your condition is more advanced.

2. Therapy

Physical and occupational therapy is often prescribed in addition to medication and/or surgery. The aim is to preserve your range of motion and show you new ways of doing everyday tasks that are less likely to aggravate your affected joints.

3. Injections

Cortisone and lubrication injections offer extended pain relief for many patients. However, you should keep in mind that you can only receive cortisone steroid injections a few times a year without causing further damage to the joint.

4. Surgery

Your surgical options will vary greatly depending on the location of your osteoarthritis. In the case of spinal degeneration, your Beverly Hills neurosurgeon will always begin with the most conservative means of treatment prior to moving towards surgery in an effort to save you the pain and recovery time involved in spinal surgery. If you think you are experiencing early signs of osteoarthritis, get in touch with Dr. Yashar immediately.