What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis that frequently develops with age. It is a chronic condition in which the cartilage between bones that cushions the joints wears down and as it does, the bones rub against each other causing pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced joint motion.
Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the hands, knees, hips, feet, and spine, though it can affect nearly any joint in the body.
8 Osteoarthritis Symptoms & Pain
Symptoms of osteoarthritis usually begin after age 40 and most frequently affect the fingers, hips, knees, feet, and spine, and less commonly, the wrists, elbows, shoulders, and ankles.
The joint pain of osteoarthritis is felt over or near the affected joint but it may sometimes be felt in other areas.
Osteoarthritis pain worsens with activity but is relieved by rest, however, in severe cases, osteoarthritis joint pain can occur even at rest or at night.
In addition to pain, other symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Joint stiffness
- Morning stiffness is common
- Often goes away within 30 minutes of getting up, but it may return throughout the day if a person is inactive
- Can also occur in cold, damp, or low-pressure weather
- Joint swelling (effusion)
- Changes in joint shape
- Crackling or grating sensation (crepitus)
- Bone spurs (osteophytes)
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Primary osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage over time. Risk factors for developing osteoarthritis include:
- Advancing age: At least 80% of people over age 55 have some X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis
- Being female: Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis
- Joint injury or trauma
- Certain occupations: those that require frequent squatting and kneeling, and other activities that involve heavy lifting, prolonged standing, or walking several miles each day
- Sports such as boxing, cycling, gymnastics, soccer, wrestling, ice hockey, pitching in baseball, and football
- Noncompetitive running does not seem to increase the risk
How Is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed based on a number of factors, including the patient's age, history, and symptoms. Tests used to diagnose osteoarthritis or rule out other conditions may include:
- Other imaging tests may be helpful if there is lack of clarity around a source of joint pain other than osteoarthritis
- Arthrocentesis (joint fluid analysis)
- Arthroscopy (may also be used to repair joint damage)
- Laboratory to rule out other conditions if it is suspected something else may be causing symptoms
What Is the Treatment for Osteoarthritis?
Treatment for osteoarthritis includes lifestyle modifications, medications, and/or surgery.
Lifestyle modifications to treat osteoarthritis include:
- Physical therapy
- Exercise programs
- Weight loss if needed
- Orthoses such as splints and braces
- Assistive devices such as canes, walkers, electric-powered seat lifts, raised toilet seats, and tub and shower bars
- Arthritis education and support
Medications used to treat osteoarthritis include:
- Topical therapies
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Glucocorticoid (steroid) injections
Surgery is usually the last resort when severe osteoarthritis significantly limits a person’s activities and that does not respond to other treatments. Types of surgery for osteoarthritis include:
- Realignment surgery to realign bones and other joint structures that have become misaligned because of chronic osteoarthritis
- Fusion surgery is used to permanently fuse two or more bones together at a joint
- Joint replacement surgery
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