Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis

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1 Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis

2 What is osteoporosis? Osteoporosis occurs when the struts which make up the mesh-like structure within bones become thin causing them to become fragile and break easily, often following a minor bump or fall. These broken bones are often referred to as 'fragility fractures'. The terms fracture and broken bone mean the same thing. Although fractures can occur in different parts of the body, the wrists, hips and spine are most commonly affected. It is these broken bones or fractures which can lead to the pain associated with osteoporosis. Spinal fractures can also cause loss of height and curvature of the spine. Strong dense bone Fragile osteoporotic bone This leaflet covers specific information on osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. If you would like more general information on osteoporosis, please ask us for a copy of our publication All about Osteoporosis.

3 What is osteoarthritis? This is the most common condition affecting joints such as the hip, knee and knuckles and causes pain, disability and loss of mobility. Osteoarthritis is not an inevitable consequence of ageing but does appear to be strongly related to age. It is uncommon in people under 45 years of age. Risk factors associated with osteoarthritis include obesity, genetic tendency, and previous trauma. Women are also more likely to develop it than men. The ends of bones (the joints) are covered in cartilage. This is a type of connective tissue that holds many of the body structures together, acts as a shock absorber between some joints, or provides a smooth lining between others. This cartilage degenerates causing bone to rub against bone. Osteophytes (bony outgrowths) may also form in this area, leading to pain and stiffness due to inflammation and occasionally, loss of function of the affected joint.

4 How is it diagnosed and treated? Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed by physical examination and x-ray. Signs of osteoarthritis are also often seen on x-rays of the spine even when no symptoms are experienced. However, not all pain will be caused by particular diseases such as osteoarthritis. Neck and back pain is often due to soft tissue damage or inflammation (tendons, ligament or muscle) rather than osteoarthritis of the spinal joints. There is no cure for osteoarthritis but there are many ways of relieving the symptoms. Analgesic or anti-inflammatory drugs may be used. Physiotherapy, including hydrotherapy (exercises in water), may ease pain and improve mobility. Injection of the joint with corticosteroid drugs to reduce the inflammation may provide pain relief. These injections are most commonly given in the knee, hip or thumb joint. In some cases, surgery is advised. Hip and knee replacement operations can be very successful for severe osteoarthritis. Changes in lifestyle may also be necessary. This should include aiming to maintain optimal weight to avoid extra stress on the joint, remain as active as possible and take regular exercise to strengthen muscles.

5 To avoid extra stress on your joints, take regular exercise to strengthen muscles. It is important to also try and have a positive attitude, as osteoarthritis is not always inevitably progressive and help is available. Primary care organisations and charities such as Arthritis Care (see details overleaf) often offer self-management courses. These are courses that offer tools and more information to help people live with their condition. Courses like this also give people an opportunity to learn different coping strategies from each other as well. What is spondylosis? Spondylosis is osteoarthritis of the joints between the vertebrae, the small bones that form the spine. The spongy discs between the vertebrae degenerate and osteophytes grow around the edges of the bones. These bony outgrowths may press on nerves or blood vessels and cause pain and other problems. Are osteoarthritis and osteoporosis the same condition? No. Osteoporosis causes bones to become fragile and more prone to fracture. Osteoarthritis affects joints. Older people are at increased risk of developing both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis by virtue of the normal ageing process. Sometimes both conditions may be present, especially if >>

6 osteoporotic fractures have occurred and joints have been affected. What about hip replacement? Hip replacement operations are useful in cases of severe osteoarthritis of the hip. If an older person falls and has a hip fracture, they are likely to have an operation to stabilise the fracture and allow early mobilisation. This early mobilisation is important to lessen the risk of problems such as chest infection and blood clots, which may occur after an operation. The hip fracture is usually pinned with screws, pins and plates, but the broken thigh bone is sometimes replaced in an operation similar to a hip replacement for osteoarthritis. Planned operations for hip replacement, to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis, are still possible if you have osteoporosis. Factors which can help to maintain healthy bones are a well-balanced diet with adequate calcium-rich foods; regular weight-bearing exercise; avoiding smoking and keeping alcohol consumption within the recommended limits.

7 Useful contacts Arthritis Research UK Copeman House St Mary s Gate Chesterfield Derbyshire S41 7TD Tel: Arthritis Care 18 Stephenson Way London NW1 2HD Tel: The National Osteoporosis Society is the only UK-wide charity dedicated to improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and fragility fractures For osteoporosis information and support contact our Helpline: or To order an information pack or other publications: or To become a member or make a donation: or join online at

8 Other leaflets in this range: Anorexia nervosa and osteoporosis Anti-epileptic drugs and osteoporosis Breast cancer treatments and osteoporosis Clothing, body image and osteoporosis Coeliac disease and osteoporosis Complementary and alternative therapies and osteoporosis Complex regional pain syndrome and osteoporosis Drug treatments for osteoporosis Exercise and osteoporosis Glucocorticoids and osteoporosis Healthy bones facts about food Healthy living for strong bones Hip protectors and osteoporosis Hormone therapy in men and women and osteoporosis Living with broken bones (includes information on welfare benefits) Osteogenesis imperfecta and osteoporosis Osteoporosis in children Parathyroid disease and osteoporosis Percutaneous vertebroplasty and balloon kyphoplasty and osteoporosis Pregnancy and osteoporosis Scans and tests and osteoporosis The contraceptive injection (Depo Provera) and osteoporosis Thyroid disease and osteoporosis Vibration therapy and osteoporosis (General Enquiries) (Helpline) Camerton, Bath BA2 0PJ President: HRH The Duchess of Cornwall National Osteoporosis Society is a registered charity no in England and Wales and no. SC in Scotland. Registered as a company limited by guarantee in England and Wales no NOS/00133 Last reviewed July 2012

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