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What is osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain and inflammation in joints. There are about
100 types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common kind. It is a long-term,
(chronic), degenerative joint disease. Degenerative means that it gets worse over time.
It affects mostly middle-aged and older adults. OA causes the breakdown of joint
cartilage. It can occur in any joint. But it most often affects the hands, knees, hips,
What causes osteoarthritis?
can be called primary or secondary. Primary OA has no known cause. Secondary OA is
caused by another disease, infection, injury, or deformity. OA starts with the breakdown
of cartilage in the joint. As the cartilage wears down, the bone ends may thicken and
form bony growths. These growths are called bone spurs. Bone spurs can limit joint
movement. Bits of bone and cartilage may float in the joint space. Fluid-filled cysts
may form in the bone. These can also limit joint movement.
Who is at risk for osteoarthritis?
risk factors of OA include:
- Heredity. Some genetic problems may lead to
OA. These include slight joint defects or joints that are too loose (laxity).
- Extra weight. Being overweight or obese can
put stress on such joints as the knees over time.
- Injury or overuse. Severe injury to a
joint, such as the knee, can lead to OA. Injury may also result from overuse or
misuse over time.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
most common symptom of OA is pain after overuse or inactivity of a joint. Symptoms
usually happen slowly over years. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person.
They may include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness, especially after sleep or inactivity
- Less movement in the joint over time
grinding feeling in the joint when moved, as the cartilage wears away (in more
symptoms of OA can be 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 may help ease
pain and other symptoms. This may include stretching and strength exercises.
- Heat treatment. Treating the 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 assistive devices.
- Weight 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. You might take
these by mouth as a pill. Or you may rub them on your skin in a cream.
- Injections of thick liquids into the
joints. These liquids mimic normal joint fluid.
- Joint surgery. You may need surgery to
repair or replace a joint that has severe damage.
with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of
What are possible complications of
Because OA causes joints to get worse over time, it can cause disability. It can cause
pain and movement problems. These can make you less able to do normal daily activities
Living with osteoarthritis
Although there is no cure for OA, it is important to help keep joints functioning. You
can ease pain and inflammation. Work on a treatment plan with your healthcare provider.
The plan may include medicine and therapy. Work on lifestyle changes that can improve
your quality of life. These may include:
- Losing 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
- Balancing 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.
- Using 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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