Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and it affects the tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. It mostly occurs in older people, though anyone can develop osteoarthritis at any age, especially from a joint injury. With osteoarthritis, or OA, the cartilage within joints begin to break down and slowly changes the bone. Pain can be caused as a result of bone spurs that grow on the edges of joints, or fragments of bone and cartilage that break off and float within the joint space.
Osteoarthritis affects over 30 million adults in the United States. It is a disease that damages cartilage, the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Without this protection, the bones rub together and cause pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Osteoarthritis typically develops gradually over time and there are many factors to what may cause OA, such as the following:
- Obesity – extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.
- Age – risk of developing OA increases with age
- Joint injury and/or stresses on the joints from physical activity
- Genetics – people who have family members with OA are more likely to develop OA, such as a genetic defect in joint cartilage
Although OA can occur in any joint, it most often occurs in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. Typical onset of symptoms include: joint stiffness after prolonged period of stillness; swelling or tenderness in one or more joints; and a crunching feeling or sound of joints rubbing.
A physician diagnoses OA through a review of symptoms, physical examination, X-rays, and lab tests. A rheumatologist is specially trained to diagnose inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and should be consulted for diagnosing osteoarthritis.
There is no cure for OA, but it can be treated with a combination of therapies and self-management strategies. Patients can increase physical activity, participate in physical therapy with muscle strengthening exercises, lose weight, use supportive devices such as crutches or canes, take over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medication, and resort to surgery if all other treatment options have been exhausted.