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Arthritis is defined as an inflammation in the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and it affects millions of people around the world. It occurs when the cartilage between bones—which normally protects and cushions the joint—wears out. This loss of cartilage gradually happens over time and, as such, osteoarthritis is more common in older people than in younger people. However, cartilage breakdown can also occur in people with repetitive-use injuries and stress to their joints, such as athletes, so symptoms can begin to appear in your 20s or 30s.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis mostly appear in weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, and spine, but it also frequently affects the fingers, thumb, neck, and large toe. Symptoms of osteoarthritis develop slowly and may include joint aching and soreness, pain after overuse or long periods of inactivity, joint stiffness after periods of rest, bony enlargements in the middle and end joints of the fingers, and joint swelling.
You are more likely to develop osteoarthritis if a family member has it, if you were born with a joint deformity, if you are obese, or if you have had a joint injury or suffered joint overuse. Sometimes, other diseases may increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is generally treated with a combination of exercise, weight loss (if needed), physical therapy, and medications. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) are the most common over-the-counter recommendations for arthritis-related pain.
If you are pregnant and have osteoarthritis, the extra weight gain may make your symptoms worse. You may have increased pain in your knees and muscle spasms or numbness in your legs. Just like with osteoarthritis in non-pregnant people, treatment with exercise and medications usually provides relief during pregnancy. Exercise during pregnancy has myriad benefits for you and your baby, and you should include flexibility and range-of-motion exercises in your routine. Walking and swimming are particularly safe, low-impact activities that are appropriate for most pregnant women.
Acetaminophen is generally considered safe during pregnancy, and ibuprofen and naproxen are safe for most women, at least during the first 2 trimesters. Topical pain relievers may also be used, and steroid injections can be considered for patients who do not respond to other treatments. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any medications (prescription and non-prescription) that you may need during pregnancy.
Non-pharmacological treatments such as heat or cold packs, rest, elevating your feet, achieving a good night’s sleep, and practicing relaxation techniques can relieve pain and stress associated with pregnancy and osteoarthritis. Also, maintain good posture, since poor posture adds stress to your joints, and wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
Generally, osteoarthritis doesn’t negatively impact your pregnancy, other than to increase your discomfort. Your baby will not be affected by the disease process and you won’t have a more difficult pregnancy, labor, or delivery if you have osteoarthritis.