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Osteoarthritis is also known as "wear and tear" arthritis. It is a progressive disease that typically develops in middle-aged people after many years of use. Over time, the elastic tissue called articular cartilage that covers the ends of the bones becomes '"frayed" and rough making it painful to move the joint.

Arthritis: What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of osteoarthritis can range from mild to debilitating.

A joint affected by osteoarthritis may produce:

  • Pain and inflammation
  • Swelling and stiffness 
  • Loss of range of motion
  • "Sticking" and weakness
  • Creaking, clicking, snapping or a grinding noise when the joint is used

How is arthritis diagnosed?

There are four vital steps to successfully diagnose osteoarthritis:

  • Medical history - It is important to be candid with your physician about your medical history to your current symptoms.
  • Physical examination - This will entail an observation of the affected joint. Checking for pain, restricted motion, and signs of injury to muscles, tendons and ligaments will be examined.
  • X-rays - This will tell the severity of joint deterioration and abnormalities including narrowing of the joint space, thinning or erosion of the bone, excess fluid of the joint, and bone spurs.
  • Lab tests - Laboratory tests can aid in the diagnosis and eliminate other diseases that cause similar symptoms.

How is arthritis treated?

Generally, your primary care physician will make the diagnosis and initiate early treatment. Conservative, non-surgical treatment may provide immediate improvement in strength and an increase in motion, while decreasing the progression of osteoarthritis. Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Lifestyle Modifications - An alteration of activities may be warranted to avoid pain. This could mean rest and limiting sports activities (such as aerobics, running, and jumping) to low-impact exercises (including stretching, walking, swimming, or cycling). If it i s determined that osteoarthritis is affecting weight-bearing joints (such as knee, hip, spine, or ankle) and you are overweight, you might have to consider a weight-loss program.
  • Medication - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce pain and swelling. Depending on the severity of discomfort, strong anti-inflammatory agents called corticosteroids can be injected directly into the joint for temporary relief of pain and swelling. Dietary supplements may also help to alleviate pain. However, these types of supplements can cause negative interactions with other medications. (Always consult with your physician before taking dietary supplements.)
  • Physical Therapy - In an effort to improve joint flexibility, increase range of motion, strengthen muscle, bone and cartilage tissues and reduce pain, a balanced fitness program may be prescribed. Supportive devices such as a brace, splint, elastic bandage, cane, crutches, or a walker can be helpful during physical therapy.

Surgical options for arthritis treatment

If the pain is not responding to non-surgical treatments, surgery may be an option in treating advanced osteoarthritis. Depending on your age, activity level, condition of the affected joint, and the extent to which the disease has progressed, surgical options can include:

  • Osteotomy - The femur (thigh bone) or tibia (calf bone) is cut and realigned to improve biomechanics of the joint.
  • Joint replacement - Portions of the bone are removed. An artificial joint with metal or plastic components is created.
  • Joint fusion - The ends of the bone are bound together (fusion), eliminating the joint. Pins, plates, screws or rods may hold bones in place while they heal.

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Total knee, hip, and shoulder replacement surgery, as well as other surgical and non-surgical treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis of the joints.

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