What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a long-ter, (chronic),
degenerative joint disease that affects mostly middle-aged and older adults.
Osteoarthritis causes the breakdown of joint cartilage. It can occur in any joint. But
it most often affects the hands, knees, hips, or spine.
What causes osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary osteoarthritis has no known cause. Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by another disease, infection, injury, or deformity. Osteoarthritis starts with the breakdown of cartilage in the joint. As the cartilage wears down, the bone ends may thicken and form bony growths (spurs). Bone spurs interfere with joint movement. Bits of bone and cartilage may float in the joint space. Fluid-filled cysts may form in the bone and limit joint movement.
Who is at risk for osteoarthritis?
The risk factors of osteoarthritis include:
- Heredity. Slight joint defects or double-jointedness (laxity) and genetic defects may contribute to osteoarthritis.
weight. Being overweight or obese can put stress on such joints as the knees
- Injury or overuse. Severe injury to a joint, such as the knee, can lead to osteoarthritis. Injury may also result from overuse or misuse over time.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain after overuse or inactivity of a joint. Symptoms usually develop slowly over years. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person, and may include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness, especially after sleep or inactivity
- Less movement in the joint over time
- A grinding feeling of the joint when moved, as the cartilage wears away (in more advanced stages)
The symptoms of osteoarthritis can look like other health conditions. Make sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
process starts with a health history and a physical exam. You may also have X-rays. This
test uses a small amount of radiation to create images of bone and other body
How is osteoarthritis treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on
how severe the condition is. The goal of treatment is to ease joint pain and stiffness,
and improve joint movement. Treatment may include:
- Exercise. Regular exercise, including stretching and strengthening, may help
ease pain and other symptoms.
treatment. Treating the affected joint with heat may help ease pain.
- Physical and
occupational therapy. These types of therapy may help to ease joint pain,
improve joint flexibility, and reduce joint strain. You may use splints and other
maintenance. Keeping a healthy weight or losing weight if needed may help to
prevent or ease symptoms.
- Medicines. These may include pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicines. Either may be taken by mouth as a pill, or rubbed on the skin as a cream.
- Injections of thick liquids into the joints. These liquids mimic normal joint fluid.
surgery. You may need surgery to repair or replace a severely damaged
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
What are the complications of osteoarthritis?
Because osteoarthritis causes joints to degenerate over time, it can cause disability.
It can cause pain and movement problems that make you less able to do normal daily
activities and tasks.
Living with osteoarthritis
Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, it is important to help keep joints
functioning by easing pain and inflammation. Work on a treatment plan with your
healthcare provider that includes medicine and therapy. Work on lifestyle changes that
can improve your quality of life. Lifestyle changes include:
weight. Extra weight puts more stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the
hips and knees.
- Exercising. Some exercises may help ease joint pain and stiffness. These
include swimming, walking, low-impact aerobic exercise, and range-of-motion
exercises. Stretching exercises may also help keep the joints flexible.
activity and rest. To reduce stress on your joints, alternate between
activity and rest. This can help protect your joints and ease your symptoms.
- Using assistive devices. Canes, crutches, and walkers can help to keep stress off certain joints and improve balance.
adaptive equipment. Reachers and grabbers allow you to extend your reach and
reduce straining. Dressing aids help people get dressed more easily.
- Managing use of medicines. Long-term use of some anti-inflammatory medicines can lead to stomach bleeding. Work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan to reduce this risk.
When should I call my healthcare
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know.
Key points about osteoarthritis
- Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disease. It affects mostly middle-aged and older adults.
- It starts with the breakdown of joint cartilage.
- Risk factors include heredity, obesity, injury, and overuse.
- Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, and limited movement of joints.
- The goals of treatment are to reduce joint pain and stiffness, and improve joint movement.
- Treatment may include medicines, exercise, heat, and joint injections.
- Surgery may be needed to repair or replace a severely damaged joint.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Diane Horowitz MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
John Hanrahan MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed:
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