Osteoarthritis is a condition that The Arthritis Research Campaign estimates 8million Britons are affected by - but only 1 million seek treatment.
Osteoarthritis is often called ‘wear and tear’ arthritis and occurs when the cartilage of a joint becomes damaged.
Cartilage is a thin layer of gristle that covers the end of the bones and allows them to glide over each other; therefore, when cartilage deteriorates, the bone underneath can thicken to overcompensate for the cartilage.
This causes pain, stiffness and swelling. The joints most affected are the knees, hips, hands and big toes.
It can be in severe cases, the cartilage can deteriorate to the extent that the bones rub together, making it difficult to move the affected joint at all.
Osteoarthritis can affect any of the 33 joints in the feet but mostly affects the joints at the base of the big toes.
This joint is more prone to wear and tear from the pressures of walking, especially if you over-pronate - roll your foot in excessively as you walk.
Wear and tear at the ends of the bone cause the cartilage to erode and the bone ends may begin to join together.
Eventually your big toe may become rigid (a condition known as hallux rigidus) which makes walking difficult. Or your big toe may drift towards your other toes (hallux valgus) which can leads to bunions.
You may initially feel a toothache-type ache in the affected joint which gets worse when you’re active, wearing high-heels or when it’s cold and damp.
It may progress to the stage where your feet ache at night. In severe cases, the range of movement in the joint may fall to the extent that you can’t move it at all.
The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown; however, according to the Arthritis Research Campaign, it is probably due to the fact we tend to put on weight as we age – putting more pressure on joints as we get older.
As a result our muscles become weaker and our body loses its ability to heal itself.
Whilst uncommon before the age of 40, osteoarthritis can occur in younger people if the joint cartilage has been damage through injury, a bacterial or viral infection or even through overuse of a particular joint as is common in farmers (hips), plumbers (knees) and footballers (knees and ankles).
Symptoms do vary from person to person and some people may have Osteoarthritis without experiencing many/any symptoms at all - Osteoarthritis does not always get worse.
If you are worried that you have osteoarthritis you should see your GP or book in to see an osteopath.
The earlier you are diagnosed the more effective any treatment will be and if you do have osteoarthritis, there are many things you can do yourself to help ease the condition.