Your doctor will take a medical history, evaluate your physical symptoms, and perform a physical exam to start your path to diagnosis. They may order additional tests to get a more thorough picture of your case as well, including:
- X-rays to show the extent of joint damage
- Blood tests to determine the type of arthritis
If you have symptoms like muscle weakness, pain to the touch, limited mobility, or a grating sound (crepitus) with joint movement, and have any risk factors, it is likely your doctor will diagnose you with osteoarthritis.
There is no cure for arthritis, but there are ways to manage your pain. Treatment starts with nonsurgical strategies. Your doctor will likely recommend anti-inflammatory medicines, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes, such as changing your activities and losing weight. Braces or orthotics have also been proven to be helpful. When you start these treatments early, it’s often possible to slow down the joint degeneration.
Surgery may eventually be necessary if these treatments fail to relieve symptoms. The type of surgery depends on the joint, the extent of joint damage, your age, and your activity level. Options range from arthroscopic (minimally invasive) repairs to total joint replacements. There are many types of procedures, including:
- Realigning the joints
- Fusing the ends of the joints to limit motion and relieve pain
- Removing the damaged joint lining
- Total joint replacement
Find a Doctor at Dignity Health to discuss the right treatment plan for your lifestyle.
Most treatments for joint and bone disease do not require specific preparation. Before each appointment, it can be helpful to create a list of questions you have for your doctor, as well as a list of your current symptoms and any other relevant information, such as medications and allergies.
If your doctor recommends joint replacement surgery, you may need to take steps to prepare, both psychologically and physically. Make sure to ask your doctor or surgical team any questions you have about your options, the procedure, and what to expect in terms of recovery.
Eating well, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol and other substances as much as possible before surgery will maximize your chances of a good outcome. If you are having a hip or knee replacement, strengthening your upper body may help you remain mobile using a wheelchair or crutches in the weeks following the replacement. If you are having a shoulder or other upper body joint replacement, strengthening your legs may be helpful.
It is also important to create a pre and post-surgical plan to make sure you have everything in place for the day of surgery, including someone to take you home after the procedure. You will not be able to drive after being under anesthesia.
Generally, people with osteoarthritis can continue living their life normally. A combination of anti-inflammatory medications, exercise regimes, and weight loss (if applicable) can work well to reduce the stiffness, pain, and lack of mobility that osteoarthritis brings.
For patients with severe pain who end up being good candidates for surgery, their pain and joint function often improve dramatically.
Living with chronic pain is a difficult thing. Online and community support groups are great resources to help you cope.
Where osteoarthritis can appear in the body
Osteoarthritis may appear differently in various areas of your body. The symptoms can vary depending on which joints are affected:
- In the knees, you may notice a scraping or grating feeling when you move
- In the hips, you may feel pain in your groin area or the inside of your knee or thigh
- In the feet, the big toe may feel painful, and your ankles may swell
- In the fingers, bony growths on the edge of your joint called spurs can cause the fingers to swell, especially at the base of your thumb
- In the spine, you may notice tenderness, stiffness, or limited range of motion in the back, as well as weakness or numbness in your arms or legs
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.