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Is Osteoarthritis Reversible?

Is Osteoarthritis Reversible?

Over 100 rheumatic diseases cause joint inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Collectively, these conditions are known as arthritis. Close to 59 million adults in the United States — or one in four Americans — have been diagnosed with some type of arthritis, and many more experience chronic joint aches that haven’t yet been diagnosed.  

Osteoarthritis (OA) accounts for more than one in two cases (55%) of doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Also called degenerative joint disease, OA causes joint pain and stiffness that can range in severity from mild and intermittent to disabling and unrelenting.   

This May, in recognition of Arthritis Awareness Month, our team of board-certified orthopedists at Sports Medicine Oregon is here to answer one of the most common questions we hear after an OA diagnosis: Is it reversible?   

How OA undermines joint function

OA is a kind of “wear-and-tear” arthritis that causes the progressive breakdown of tissues within the affected joint. Many people think OA damage is limited to cartilage breakdown, but the disease can erode any joint tissue, including:

Early OA damage may simply make the affected joint feel stiff and achy at times. As cartilage loss and adjacent tissue degeneration advance, OA is more likely to cause persistent joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness that combine to progressively diminish joint range of motion, stability, and strength.  

OA is manageable — but not curable

In all its forms, arthritis is a chronic condition that can’t be cured or reversed. It’s also a progressive disease, meaning it tends to gradually worsen over time — especially without proper care or intervention. 

In a “worse case” scenario, chronic joint pain can make you less active, weakening your muscles, promoting weight gain, and placing the affected joint under greater stress as a result. OA joint degeneration can also lead to damaging structural changes, including: 

 Luckily, worsening joint damage and pain aren’t a foregone conclusion: OA is also a highly manageable disease, meaning there’s a lot you can do to alleviate your symptoms, slow its progression, and preserve joint function. 

Ways you can slow OA progression

OA treatment has two main objectives: Alleviating symptom flares and slowing disease progression. Given that easing joint pain can help you stay active, effective OA symptom management also serves to support your efforts at long-term disease control. 

Joints are made to move

The first thing you need to know about effective OA management is that your joints are made to move. But it’s also important to recognize that too much and too little physical activity can trigger OA-related joint pain and stiffness.  

Finding the right balance

The key to supporting healthier, pain-free joints is learning the right balance of activity and rest for your body, and making sure you don’t overdo it (or rest too much). A period of rest can help during an OA flare, however, supported by proven pain relief strategies like:  

Once joint pain has subsided, it’s important to get moving again — gentle stretches and low-impact exercise alleviate stiffness and keep your joints fluid. In fact, exercise is one of the most important habits you can cultivate when it comes to slowing OA progression. 

Long-term OA management

You can also minimize joint stress and delay OA damage by:

Incorporating physical therapy can also help: Our physical medicine specialists can show you gentle stretches and exercises that take your joints through their full range of motion, foster flexibility, and ease stiffness.

Medical interventions to ease OA pain

If you reach a point where OA disease progression makes it difficult to sustain pain-free, mobile joints with your normal daily care routine, we can provide next-level care. You may benefit from:

Once OA has caused extensive damage within a joint, surgery is often the best solution: A total joint replacement (i.e., hip, knee, elbow, shoulder) can resolve the problem and help restore a pain-free, fully functional joint. 

Ready to improve your OA management plan? Sports Medicine Oregon can help. Call your nearest office in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today, or click online to schedule a visit at your convenience.

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