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Living with Arthritis

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Understanding your Osteoarthritis

  • What is osteoarthritis?

    “Osteoarthritis is a disorder that can affect any moveable joint of the body, for example knees, hips, and hands. It can show itself as a breakdown of tissues and abnormal changes to cell structures of joints, which can be initiated by injury. As the joint tries to repair, it can lead to other problems.

    Osteoarthritis first shows itself as a change to the biological processes within a joint, followed by abnormal changes to the joint, such as the breakdown of cartilage, bone reshaping, bony lumps, joint inflammation, and loss of joint function. This can result in pain, stiffness and loss of movement. There are certain factors which make some people more vulnerable to developing osteoarthritis, such as genetic factors, other joint disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis), injury to the joint from accidents or surgery, being overweight or doing heavy physical activity in some sports or a person’s job”.

    Research User Group, Institute of Primary Care and Health Sciences, Keele University, UK

    Learn more at OARSI (Osteoarthritis Research Society International).

  • What causes osteoarthritis?

    Several risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing osteoarthritis (OA):

    Longevity: Living to 65 or more does not mean you will inevitably develop OA, but being older considerably increases your risk of developing the disease.

    Family history: If other members of your family have or did have OA, your risk of developing OA increases. OA of the hand, for instance, has been found to run in some families. A family trait, though, does not mean you will inevitably develop the disease. Hereditary traits are complex and genetic research has shown that several genetic traits can lead to OA. Although a family history of OA is not necessarily your destiny, taking preventive measures such as staying active, watching your weight, and being on the lookout for early symptoms will serve you well. At the first signs of OA take early action, a wise self-help approach.

    Gender or, more precisely, being female: OA is more common in women than it is in men. As well as an overall gender imbalance, some female joints, such as those in the hands, can have a genetic link to OA.

    Being overweight or obese: Excess weight puts unnecessary stress on joints, especially knee and hip joints. Add time into the mix and you can see how carrying too much weight could cause excessive strain on the joint under years of additional pressure. Excess weight appears to affect hands too, suggesting that factors circulating in the blood related to obesity may contribute to OA.

    Past joint injury: A medical history of joint damage, joint surgery, or damage to joint-supporting ligaments and tendons can result in OA.

    Learn more at OARSI (Osteoarthritis Research Society International).

  • How do I suspect I have osteoarthritis?

    Osteoarthritis (OA) can affect anyone of any race or gender, but not everyone has the same experience of the condition. Symptoms, and their degree of severity, can vary from day to day and from person to person. There are, however, a number of common symptoms associated with OA. Are you experiencing any of the following symptoms:

    - Joint pain that usually occurs when using the joint or at the end of the day after using the joint

    - Stiffness that occurs more frequently first thing in the morning; or stiffness later in the day after sitting for periods of time but which lasts for less than around 30 minutes once you get moving

    - Joint noises such as cracking, crunching, grinding sounds when the joint moves

    - Swelling, when your joint appears larger and feels warm to touch, can be caused by the inflammation associated with OA leading to joint fluid buildup

    - Instability, when the joint may feel weak or likely to give way when you put pressure on it?

    If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, consult your doctor. It is time check if you have OA.

    Learn more at OARSI (Osteoarthritis Research Society International).

  • Stay educated about your osteoarthritis

Information about Medications used to treat Osteoarthritis

  • Are Glucosamine and Chondroitin effective in treating OA?

    Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are popular supplements used to treat the pain and loss of function associated with osteoarthritis (OA). However, most studies assessing their effectiveness show modest to no improvement compared with placebo in either pain relief or joint damage.


  • NSAIDs and COXIBs

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a class of medication used to treat the pain and inflammation of arthritis. They do not contain steroids, hence the name “non-steroidal.” NSAIDs are a very large category of medications, some of which you can obtain without a prescription, such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) (e.g., Aspirin®, Entrophen®, Novasen®), ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin® or Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®). The list of NSAIDs is long, with more than 20 currently available.

    A COXIB (i.e., celecoxib (Celebrex®)) is an NSAID that has been custom-designed to minimize the risk of stomach ulcers. Although COXIBs are safer on the stomach, they still have all of the other side effects of NSAIDs and may still cause indigestion, nausea, stomach cramps and heartburn.


  • Over-the-counter pain management

    A non-prescription medication — sometimes called an over-the-counter or OTC medicine — is any medication that you can buy without a prescription. Some medications to help control arthritis pain can be bought over the counter without a prescription. You are probably familiar with many of these, such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®, Tylenol Arthritis®), ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin® or Advil®), naproxen (Aleve®) and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) (e.g., Aspirin®, Entrophen®, Anacin®, Novasen®, etc.).

    Acetaminophen is primarily used to help alleviate the pain of OA. Acetaminophen may also be used to help treat pain associated with inflammatory arthritis. The usefulness of acetaminophen in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis is limited as it does not help control the disease or prevent joint damage.

    NSAIDs may be used to treat the symptoms of inflammatory types of arthritis (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis) and OA.


  • Prescription Biologics

    Inflammation is one of the immune system’s first responses to help fight infection. It also aids the healing process when the body experiences trauma or injuries, such as a broken bone. Once the infection is cleared and/or bones are healed, the body “switches off” this response. For people with inflammatory arthritis, the immune system is overactive and their body does not appropriately “switch off” the inflammatory response. This inflammation then begins to attack normal body tissues and can cause damage in joint tissues.

    Biologic medications work by modifying the body’s inflammatory response. By decreasing the immune system’s attack on normal tissues, biologics, like disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), can reduce pain, joint inflammation and damage to bones and cartilage.


  • Which treatment is best for my OA?

    Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that can worsen over time causing increased pain and disability. Currently there is no proven cure to slow down or stop OA from worsening. The condition, however, affects people differently and it is hard to predict how the condition will progress in any individual. Unfortunately, changes that appear on an x-ray and other imaging studies do not indicate how quickly your symptoms will intensify, or how you will respond to treatment. On the other hand, for many people, their OA symptoms can lessen with appropriate management or at least remain the same.

    Your treatment will vary depending on your symptoms and which joints are affected. Talk with your doctor so that together you may design a treatment plan that best meets your needs. This may mean trying one or more treatments to find the one or the combination of treatments that works well for you. Working with your doctor is important because you may have other conditions that would make certain medications used in the treatment of OA inadvisable in your case.

    General guidelines: You should start with exercise, weight-loss, lifestyle modification, and physical therapy. Often these steps can be sufficient to manage the symptoms, avoiding use of medications. For many patients, though, medications to help with pain are also needed. Surgery is reserved for symptoms that don’t respond to these other options, including medications.