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Last modified on August 25th, 2020
There are many kinds of arthritis, but they all involve pain, swelling, and inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 30 million adults in the USA. It’s a function of aging and happens when the tough cartilage that covers the ends of bones wears out. When cartilage thins, the ends of bones begin to rub together. The increased contact and friction between bones lead to inflammation and pain in the joints.
There are two forms of osteoarthritis: primary and secondary. Primary osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, is a result of aging. Aging thins and wears down the cartilage caps on the ends of bones that meet in the joints, allowing those bones to come into contact.
Secondary osteoarthritis is often caused when accidents, like those from sports, damaged joint cartilage. Once damaged, cartilage becomes less efficient at protecting bones. However, many illnesses and conditions like obesity can cause secondary arthritis. Any activity that places too much consistent pressure on the joints can cause secondary arthritis.
What happens in osteoarthritis?
Joints allow our bodies to flex and move gracefully and efficiently. Cartilage caps the ends of bones where they meet to form joints. Cartilage is a durable, flexible material made of collagen and non-collagen proteins. It’s tough enough to protect bone tissue, but over the years starts to wear away faster than the body can replace it. Cartilage itself is slow-growing and doesn’t regenerate or heal rapidly.
After cartilage has eroded, bone-to-bone contact becomes frequent. It’s painful and leads to a restriction in a person’s range of movement. Bones may develop microfractures from contacting each other, as well.
Primary osteoarthritis usually affects people who are at least middle-aged or older, but secondary osteoarthritis affects people of all ages. Injuries hasten along both forms of arthritis.
Aging causes primary osteoarthritis. The collagen and non-collagen proteins in cartilage trap water, forming a gel-like cushion that protects the ends of bones from striking one another. However, over the years, cartilage loses water, becoming increasingly less effective.
Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis
- Swelling and tenderness. Joints may swell, feel warm to the touch, and hurt when pressed.
- Often, joint pain is the first tell-tale of arthritis. Pain may be aching, dull, throbbing, or shooting. People may also feel a grating sensation, due to the bones of the affected joint making contact.
- Reduced flexibility. A person’s range of movement will become restricted.
- Stiffness in the joints is common in osteoarthritis
Progression of osteoarthritis
OA is a progressive disorder, meaning it develops from less severe states to more serious pain and impairment. There are five stages in progressive OA. In stage 0, a joint is normal and unaffected. At stage 4, a joint with OA has been severely impaired and/or is producing serious pain. Not everyone will progress through all the stages. A person’s osteoarthritis can be stabilized before severe joint damage occurs.
Third and fourth stage OA leads to:
- Joint instability. A person’s major weight-bearing joints may lock or buckle. This can lead to serious injury, especially when a person’s knees buckle.
- Increased inflammation, leading to severe swelling. The volume of fluid in the joint may increase. An increase in the synovial fluid would normally help reduce friction between the bones, but in excessive amounts, it leads to serious swelling in the joints.
- Increased pain. Pain during movement is common during activities in all levels of OA, but in later stages, pain happens at rest and may last all day, regardless of a person’s level of movement.
- Decreased range of motion. Stiffness and pain cause people to restrict their movements.
Conventional treatments for arthritis
Primary osteoarthritis cannot be prevented and can lead to disability. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the United States. However, there are steps you can take to keep osteoarthritis from becoming a significant problem.
Lifestyle changes. Carrying too much weight puts stress and strain on joints weakened by arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight prevents excessive wear and tear on your joints. Light to moderate exercise can also help keep your joints healthy. You don’t need to do aerobic exercises, either. Twenty minutes of low-impact exercises like walking or swimming can improve muscle tone in your joints. Exercise also helps reduce pain and stiffness.
Conventional medical therapy for arthritis involves the following oral and topical medications:
- Corticosteroids. By prescription only, corticosteroids decrease pain by reducing swelling and inflammation. Prednisone is commonly given for osteoarthritis.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs help reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. Common examples include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. They’re temporarily effective but can produce stomach upset. Taking too high a dosage of an NSAID or taking an NSAID for too long can cause bleeding in the stomach.
- Analgesics. Analgesics include basic painkillers like acetaminophen and prescription-only opioid-class narcotics. They relieve pain but don’t reduce inflammation or swelling.
- Topical Counterirritants. “Cold gels” like menthol-rich gels and creams, or capsaicin-containing “hot” creams and ointments, are all available over-the-counter. Some examples include:
- One of the “hot” topical counter-irritants, topic creams, gels and ointments containing capsaicin, a derivative of chili peppers, work by blocking the release of a complex chemical, “Substance P,” which reduces the activity of pain receptors in deep joints like those in the hips, joints, and back.
- Similar to aspirin, salicylates are found in many rub-on topical applications. They provide temporary relief of pain in the fingers, knees, and elbows.
Conventional medical therapy for osteoarthritis has some significant side-effects. Steroids for arthritis treatment can weaken ligaments when used over too long a time. NSAIDs can contribute to irritation and bleeding in the lining of the stomach, while oral analgesics like acetaminophen can place stress on the liver.
The best supplements for osteoarthritis
Natural supplements for osteoarthritis tend to have fewer side effects, compared to conventional medications. Supplements for osteoarthritis may work by decreasing inflammation and swelling or reducing pain, although some of the best natural supplements for osteoarthritis do both.
If you’re interested in discovering what supplements for osteoarthritis can do for you, consider the following natural supplement treatment.
Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements
Omega-3 fatty acid fish oil supplements:
- Come from cold-water fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon, anchovies, and tuna
- Reduce inflammation throughout the body
- Contain healthy dense fatty acids
- Are potent anti-oxidants
- Include both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been hyped for several years, and they do indeed live up to that hype. While omega-3 fatty acids cannot cure any disorder, they’re effective at reducing inflammation in joints aggravated by osteoarthritis. As with all the best supplements for osteoarthritis, omega-3 fish oil supplements also have an analgesic effect.
If you’re interested in one of the best fish oil supplements for osteoarthritis, check out:
- 3600 milligrams of fish oil in each serving (3 easy to swallow soft gels)
- 1296 milligrams of EPA
- 864 milligrams of DHA
- No fishy aftertaste
- Purified through molecular distillation. No heavy metals, no mercury, and no toxins
Consult your doctor before starting fish oil supplements if you are taking a blood thinner. Fish oil can act as a blood thinner.
Curcumin comes from turmeric, the bright yellow spice used in many Indian dishes. Curcumin:
- Is a powerful anti-inflammatory molecule
- Fights free radical molecules that damage tissues
- Decreases inflammation in joints and tissues, as well as organs
- Reduces swelling in joints
- Research supports its usefulness in reducing pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that gives it its inflammation-fighting power. A naturally-occurring complex chemical, curcumin is an extremely effective anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants blunt the action of reactive chemicals called free radicals that are the by-products of metabolic processes. Inflammation generates an overabundance of free radicals that in turn lead to even more inflammation. Curcumin breaks this vicious cycle.
Curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body. Supplements that pair piperine, an extract of black pepper, with curcumin deliver the most benefit.