What Are the Stages of Osteoarthritis?
In general, Osteoarthritis can be classified into 4 main stages.
A joint with stage 1 Osteoarthritis will have very minor “wear and tear” in the affected joint. Zero to minimal inflammation will be present in this stage, and typically any pain experienced will be very mild and dissipate quickly.
- Cartilage in the affected joint will begin to show signs of degeneration, and begin to lose its “smooth” appearance.
- Minimal discomfort felt in affected joint.
- Minimal inflammation present in affected joint.
A joint with stage 2 Osteoarthritis will have “mild” wear and tear in the affected joint. This means that the cartilage that lines your joint will be showing signs of degeneration, specifically on an X-ray. At this stage, there is still a good amount of space between each bone in the joint, allowing for proper range of movement. Due to the mild degeneration of the cartilage that lines your bones, inflammation and pain may be present with movement or use of that joint.
Stage 2 is typically where people begin to first notice consistent symptoms:
- Pain after a long day of walking or running.
- Stiffness in the joint when it’s not used for several hours.
- Tenderness when pressing on the joint.
A joint with stage 3 Osteoarthritis will have “moderate” degeneration of the cartilage. This is in addition to a noticeable decrease in the space between the bones of the joint. This results in an increased frequency and severity of pain and discomfort with the performance of daily tasks, or when using that joint.
Symptoms such as marked joint stiffness after sitting for long periods of time or when waking up in the morning will be present. Due to the increasing degeneration of the joint surface, inflammation will be present after extended periods of activity.
A joint with stage 4 Osteoarthritis will have “severe” degeneration of the cartilage. This will result in a large loss of space between the bones that make up that joint. Individuals with stage 4 Osteoarthritis experience great pain and discomfort when they use the affected joint. This is because the joint space between bones has been severely reduced. The cartilage that once lined the surfaces of the bones is almost completely gone.
Symptoms of stage 4 may include:
- Severe decrease in the range of motion of the affected joint.
- Consistent and severe pain with daily tasks that use the arthritic joint.
- Constant inflammation and swelling present within and around the affected joint.
Can OA be Treated?
You may be asking yourself at this point: What can I do to treat Osteoarthritis?
In a perfect world, the initial treatment for Osteoarthritis is prevention. Recognising the early signs of Osteoarthritis can help you to design a strategy to limit the further degeneration of your affected joints. This is done by implementing an individualised strengthening, flexibility, and mobility exercise regimen. This is best prescribed to you following a complete assessment by a physiotherapist!
Unfortunately, we don’t always catch the signs and symptoms of Osteoarthritis in the early stages. Many times individuals recognise that there is a problem only when they begin to have frequent and increasing symptoms of pain.
Even though there is no true “cure” for Osteoarthritis, there is still hope at this stage and it is possible to improve your symptoms. In order to do so, you must commit to working closely with your physiotherapist. It is also recommended to consult with your GP at this stage in order to review any medications that may be beneficial.
What to do next?
If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of Osteoarthritis, scheduling an early assessment with a physiotherapist is the next step. This will help to identify specific areas of weakness and mobility loss that can be addressed with a wide range of treatments techniques. These will include strengthening, flexibility, mobility, and endurance exercises, and manual techniques.
Do not hesitate to schedule your assessment today, you will thank yourself in the long run!!!