Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease the affects the joints of the body
causing pain and inflexibility. It is the most common type of arthritis,
affecting around eight million people in the UK.
The condition mostly occurs in the hips, knees, spine and small joints of the hands, but almost any joint can be affected.
Athletes that take part in vigorous sports activities are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than more inactive individuals and it is this condition that has unfortunately forced marathon runner Paula Radcliffe out of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Radcliffe had been suffering pain from the degenerative joint problem in her left foot for over three weeks and has now confirmed she will be unable to recover in time for Sunday’s marathon race.
[Related article: Injury rules Radcliffe out of Olympic marathon]
In a statement on the UK athletics website, Radcliffe addressed her injury, saying: “For details on my foot... yes, that joint is degenerative and badly damaged. The same foot that I was told in 1994 I would never run on again!
“I refused to believe it then and I don’t believe now that it can’t recover and be carefully managed to allow me to still do what I love to do. Unfortunately though, that isn’t going to happen in one week.”
Although athletes are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis many factors can increase the risk of the joint problem. It’s most common if you’re in your late 40s or older, a woman, overweight or if your parents have had the disease, if you have had a previous joint injury, born with a joint abnormality or have another type of joint disease.
[Related article: Frequent tipple 'halves arthritis risk']
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:• Mild inflammation of tissues in and around the joints.
• Damage to cartilage, the cushioned surface that lines the bones and allows joints to move easily
• Bony growths that develop around the edge of the joints
What causes the pain?
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage at the end of bones deteriorates. The bone in joints then tries to repair the damage but in osteoarthritis the bone grows abnormally.
The pain of OA causes great discomfort and while there is no cure yet, there are various effective treatments available to help relieve symptoms and reduce the chance of the patient’s condition worsening.
Exercise, weight loss and painkillers all work to keep the condition under control as well as opioids, which are another type of painkiller and non-steroidal anti-imflammorty drugs (NSAIDs) that are prescribed in tablet or cream form.
Scientists hope to find a cure for the joint disease and Arthritis Research UK has announced it will launch the first major UK research centre in 2013 where scientists will investigate the risks associated with osteoarthritis and specific sports.
Alan Silman, Arthritis Research UK Medical Director, said: “From the limited research in this area, we know that for some people, amateurs and professional sportspeople alike, sport-related injuries and joint damage can go on to cause osteoarthritis in later life.
“While there is reasonable guidance on how to manage injuries in the short-term, there is currently no research into the long-term implications of sports injuries, and what we can do to better prevent and manage osteoarthritis.”
The new research centre also plant to identify why certain individuals are more at risk of developing OA in later life, and what is the best approach to treat sports injuries.