If you are experiencing joint pain, you may be suffering from osteoarthritis (OA). The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects up to 10 per cent of the adult and 20 per cent of the elderly population​ in Singapore.

Dr Katy Leung, Senior Consultant from the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group explains, “Osteoarthritis is common. It affects the whole joint, including cartilage, a slippery tissue that cushions the ends of bones in a joint; the joint capsule (or synovium) and the muscle around it.”

She adds, “Our joints help us to mobilise, but if joints are damaged, it hurts. The end stage is cartilage loss with bones rubbing together causing pain, swelling and loss of flexibility. Although not life-threatening, osteoarthritis can affect your daily life.”

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

With osteoarthritis, joint pain or aching just comes and goes. It may only occur a whole day of using joints, like walking for a long period of time, or after climbing stairs. Some may feel stiff when getting​ up from prolonged sitting. With time, the pain and stiffness become more frequent and not going away.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling and stiffness of the affected joints, which is more in the mornings and when you get up from chairs. The pain also tends to worsen during cold weather.
  • Changes in the surrounding joints. Your knees, your finger knobs may appear bigger than when you were young.
  • Warmth – The arthritic joint may feel warm to the touch
  • Crepitation – A sensation of grating or grinding in the affected joint caused by rubbing of damaged cartilage surfaces
  • Walking difficulties, including walking downstairs / down slopes, and when you walk for long distances

Treatment of osteoarthritis

As there is no medication to cure osteoarthritis symptoms or prevent cartilage loss, some treatments help people to cope better with the disease. Treatment options vary according to the severity of the disease. In early cases, osteoarthritis treatment involves:

  • Weight management is important. The more you weigh, the higher the load is transferred to your leg joints and the higher the chance the condition will progress.
  • Physiotherapy to help strengthen muscles and improve joint flexibility. Strong muscles are the greatest support to joints, on the contrary weak muscles transfer more load to joints and make them worse in the long term.
  • Exercise to strengthen muscles and protect your joints
  • Rest and lifestyle modication
  • Use of mild painkillers such as paracetamol
  • The use of supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin may help to relieve pain in some patients.
  • In some cases, use of a movement aid (e.g. a walking stick), braces or different insoles may be helpful.

For more severe osteoarthritis, treatment includes:

  • Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroid jabs or other lubricant jabs into or around the joint if painkillers are no longer effective. However, their effects are only temporary, lasting for weeks at most. Repetitive steroid jabs are also not advised as there is a risk of infection, nerve damage, thinning of surrounding skin, rupture of tendon and thinning of bone with every jab.
  • Joint replacement surgery, like knee replacement surgery, are offered to severe disease. It is very effective in relieving pain and restoring mobility when patients start to suffer from severe pain and disability due to OA.

Your best defence against osteoarthritis is the protection of your joints.

See next page for prevention tips for osteoarthritis.

Ref: O17​