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What is osteoarthritis?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis in which damage to cartilage and surrounding tissue in the joints occurs gradually and continues to get worse. Common causes of osteoarthritis include injury, overuse, lifestyle issues (like obesity), genetic makeup, infection and other diseases such as metabolic disorders. Osteoarthritis tends to affect the hands, knees, hips, lower back and neck. It is the most common type of arthritis.

The pain of osteoarthritis often makes it difficult to perform everyday tasks such as taking a bath. Kneeling, bending, sitting or standing may also become difficult. A doctor can recommend treatments to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that starts later in life, usually after age 50. The joints affected are mostly hips, knees, feet, and spine; rarely affect hands. Joint symptoms include pain and swelling. There is no pain symmetry; pain often affects only one joint. Bone symptoms are bony growths and blood test results are normal.

 

If you notice your joints creaking a little and not moving as smoothly as they once did, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about osteoarthritis. As you age, cartilage—the shock-absorbing tissue that cushions our joints—can start to break down over time, causing increased stress on the bones, muscles and joint tissue. This can lead to pain, swelling, stiffness and difficulty with joint movement. Osteoarthritis is not just normal wear and tear, but an active biological process that breaks down the cartilage in response to stress on the joint.

About 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis. It most often strikes joints in the knee, elbows, fingers (especially the joints closest to the nail and in the thumbs), lower back, neck, hip, ankle and big toe.

Exercise, weight management, medications and other therapies all can help relieve the joint pain caused by osteoarthritis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.