Osteoarthritis causes joints to break down over time. Learn about osteoarthritis, including which treatments can ease symptoms and support joint health.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It affects more than 32.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With OA, joint cartilage and the tissues that surround it become damaged, resulting in joint pain and stiffness that limits range of motion.   

Around 43 million people worldwide experience moderate to severe disability due to osteoarthritis. It ranks 11th among the world’s most debilitating diseases. No available treatments can cure this chronic condition, but they can help slow its progression, improve mobility, and preserve joint health.   

Learn about OA, why it develops, whether it can be prevented, which treatments can ease osteoarthritis symptoms, and what you can do to support your joint health now and into the future. 

What is osteoarthritis?

Senior woman sitting on a couch in a living room clutching her fists together due to stiff joints from osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. This means “wear-and-tear” causes joint cartilage and surrounding tissue to break down gradually over time. A joint is the meeting point of two or more bones. Cartilage is a flexible yet tough, rubbery material that cushions the ends of joints and reduces friction between bones. Essentially, cartilage serves as the skeleton’s shock absorbers.   

As OA progresses, cartilage thins out and inflammation, swelling, stiffness, pain, and joint deformity can occur. Other joint structures such as ligaments, tendons, synovia (joint linings), and the ends of bones also become damaged over time. Uncomfortable bone-on-bone contact may occur if cartilage wears away completely.   

Although anyone can get osteoarthritis, this joint disease often starts to develop in adults during their 40s and 50s, with almost all people affected to varying degrees by 80 years old. In fact, around 80 percent of adults ages 65 and older have some evidence of osteoarthritis on X-rays, though only 60 percent of this group experiences symptoms.  

Osteoarthritis numbers appear to be on the rise, according to a 2020 report published in The Lancet. Global osteoarthritis rates rose by more than 113 percent over the span of nearly three decades. Around 247.5 million around the world were living with the disease in 1990, whereas nearly 528 million had the disease in 2019.  

Osteoarthritis can occur in joints throughout the body, but most often affects the:  

  • Knees 
  • Hands (typically at the base of the thumb and ends of the fingers)  
  • Hips  
  • Neck (also called cervical osteoarthritis)   
  • Lower back (known as spinal osteoarthritis, or spondylosis)     

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What are the types of osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can be categorized as primary or secondary.  

Primary osteoarthritis  

Primary osteoarthritis is the most common type of OA. Also called idiopathic OA, primary OA refers to degenerative joint changes that don’t have a known cause in most cases. It’s often attributed to the body’s natural aging process and tends to occur in the big toes, knees, hips, spine, and fingers.  

Secondary osteoarthritis  

This type of osteoarthritis results from another condition, such as injuries, pre-existing diseases, and joint deformities. People with osteoarthritis who are younger than 50 usually have secondary osteoarthritis.  

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What are the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis symptoms tend to be subtle at first and may gradually worsen over the course of months or years. Often, symptoms start in one or a few joints, then progress to other joints in the body.    

A deep ache in the joints is often the first sign of osteoarthritis. When pain occurs in weight-bearing joints (like the knees), standing, walking, and other physical activities can make osteoarthritis symptoms worse. Along with joint pain, joint stiffness and reduced range of motion are the three major symptoms that commonly occur with the disease. Joint stiffness may feel worse upon waking or after long periods of inactivity.  

Other common joint symptoms caused by OA include:  

  • Swelling in soft tissues around the joint that may occur or worsen after physical activity  
  • Reduced range of motion in the affected joint 
  • A feeling of joint instability, buckling, or looseness   
  • Pain that radiates to nearby areas of the body (for example, hip osteoarthritis can cause leg pain) 
  • Tenderness when touching the joint   
  • A grating or scraping sensation when moving the joint, sometimes accompanied by cracking, clicking, or popping sounds (this often occurs in the knees)   
  • Visible changes in joint shape and size (particularly in finger joints)   
  • Neck or low back stiffness, if osteoarthritis occurs in the spine   

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can range from barely noticeable to debilitating. They can also vary according to the condition’s cause and what joints are affected, along with your age and overall health.   

As osteoarthritis progresses, symptoms can make it difficult to climb stairs, stand up, sit down, grip objects, and perform other routine movements. You may find everyday activities like walking the dog or carrying groceries to be increasingly uncomfortable or tiring.  

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What causes osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis typically occurs when joint cartilage becomes damaged. To address the damage, chemicals build up in the joint to stimulate the production of cartilage components like collagen and proteoglycans (molecules that trap water in cartilage). This can cause the cartilage to retain water, swell, soften, and begin to break down. Small cracks may develop in the bone underneath cartilage, adding to joint damage.  

Primary osteoarthritis doesn’t necessarily have an identifiable cause. There are several possible causes of secondary osteoarthritis, including the following: 

  • Joint injuries 
  • Inflammatory arthritis types like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout 
  • Infectious arthritis (also called septic arthritis, which occurs when an infection spreads to one or more of the joints, causing inflammation)  
  • Inherited joint disorders like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (sometimes referred to as being “double-jointed” or hypermobile) 
  • Metabolic disorders such as hemochromatosis (a genetic condition that causes the body to store too much iron) 

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What are the risk factors for osteoarthritis?

Having one or more risk factors for osteoarthritis increases your chances of developing the condition. 


Age is the biggest risk factor for osteoarthritis, as most cases are diagnosed in people over age 50. Around 73 percent of people with osteoarthritis globally are older than 55. Still, it’s possible for younger adults to develop osteoarthritis, especially if they’ve sustained a joint injury or have a preexisting joint condition.  

Sex assigned at birth  

People assigned female at birth (AFAB) account for 60 percent of osteoarthritis cases overall. But before age 40, this degenerative arthritis tends to affect people assigned male at birth (AMAB) more often than those AFAB, likely due to joint deformities or injuries. Between the ages of 40 and 70, OA rates are higher among adults AFAB. After age 70, it affects people AMAB and AFAB equally. 


Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis, particularly hip and knee osteoarthritis. Carrying excess weight places added strain on joints and can accelerate joint degeneration. For instance, every time you take a step, you place 80 percent of your body weight on a single leg.  

Joint injury     

Even a minor joint injury that’s seemingly healed can increase your risk of osteoarthritis. This may include a sudden injury related to exercise or sports, a fall, or an auto accident. It may also involve a gradually developing overuse injury (one that results from repeatedly using the same parts of the body, such as when you have an occupation that requires frequent bending or lifting or heavy use of the hands).  

Joint abnormalities  

People who are born with a misaligned bone or joint (referred to clinically as bone or joint malalignment) have a greater chance of developing osteoarthritis. Having poor muscle strength around a joint can also lead to misalignment over time. In other cases, joint disorders like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (double-jointedness) may raise osteoarthritis risk. 

Genetic factors 

Certain inherited traits can leave someone more vulnerable to joint diseases like osteoarthritis. Having a close blood family member (such as a parent or sibling) with osteoarthritis could mean you have a greater risk of developing the condition yourself.  

Other medical conditions  

Having certain medical conditions can increase a person’s likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, including:  

  • Rheumatoid arthritis   
  • Psoriatic arthritis  
  • Gout  
  • Diabetes  
  • Hyperlipidemia (a condition in which blood contains high levels of fat particles, called lipids) 
  • Hemochromatosis (a condition in which the body has too much iron)    

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How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

To diagnose osteoarthritis, an HCP such as a primary care doctor will begin by asking questions about your medical history and symptoms (such as their frequency, severity, and how they impact your daily routine). From there, they will perform a thorough physical exam to assess joint flexibility and to check for pain, swelling, discoloration, and tenderness. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in evaluating and treating arthritis, such as a rheumatologist or an orthopedic specialist.   

Your HCP might order imaging tests to view pictures of your joints before diagnosing osteoarthritis. Common imaging methods for osteoarthritis include:   

  • X-ray imaging: While an X-ray can’t show cartilage, it can reveal bone damage, bone spurs (small bone growths), and other joint changes related to osteoarthritis. X-ray imaging uses a small dose of radiation to create images of bones and joints.  
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This type of imaging uses a magnetic field and radio waves to provide a clearer view of joint cartilage. Although an MRI may not be needed in every case, the imaging test may show early changes in cartilage. It may also be helpful in diagnosing more complex cases of osteoarthritis.   
  • Ultrasound imaging: Also called sonography, ultrasound imaging uses sound waves to produce pictures that can reveal thinning joint cartilage, fluid buildup, thickened joint linings, and other signs of osteoarthritis.  

Laboratory tests may also be ordered to help rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. For example, your HCP may recommend:  

  • Joint aspiration: If a joint looks and feels swollen, your HCP may inject an anesthetic to numb the area, after which they’ll insert a thin needle into the joint space to draw out a small amount of fluid for testing. This can help rule out infections or other types of arthritis, such as gout.    
  • Blood tests: Blood tests can’t diagnose osteoarthritis on their own, but some tests can help rule out other causes of joint pain and inflammation, including infections, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis. Blood tests your HCP may prescribe include a complete blood count (or CBC, which looks for signs of infection), a uric acid blood test (to help detect gout), or a rheumatoid factor test (to evaluate signs of rheumatoid arthritis). 

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What are the stages of osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can generally be categorized into four main stages:   

  • Stage 1 (Minor): The joint has some minor wear and tear, but there’s little or no pain.   
  • Stage 2 (Mild): Pain or stiffness starts to become noticeable. Cartilage is thinning, but there’s still enough left to cushion bones and prevent them from touching.  
  • Stage 3 (Moderate): Pain and stiffness worsens and may be especially noticeable when waking up in the morning. There may be several bone spurs, and actions like walking and kneeling become increasingly uncomfortable.   
  • Stage 4 (Severe): Pain is severe and moving the joint is difficult. Joint cartilage may be almost or completely gone, causing bone-on-bone contact.  

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When should you see a healthcare provider?

Speak with a healthcare provider (HCP) if you develop joint pain or stiffness. This is especially true if your symptoms last longer than three days or if you have multiple episodes of joint pain or stiffness within one month.   

It’s also a good idea to be examined by an HCP if joint pain or stiffness are accompanied by redness, swelling, and tenderness and warmth around the joint along with a fever, as this may be due to an infection. Be sure to see an HCP right away if you sustained an injury that causes:  

  • Severe joint pain 
  • Sudden swelling in the affected joint 
  • A joint that appears misshapen 
  • Inability to move or use the joint  

Whether you recently developed joint pain or you’ve already received an osteoarthritis diagnosis, you may find it helpful to keep an osteoarthritis symptom journal. Tracking your symptoms and taking note of factors that influence them can provide valuable insight to you and your HCP.  

What questions should you ask your healthcare provider? 

Experiencing osteoarthritis symptoms may leave you with questions. Before speaking with your HCP, consider jotting down a few questions to ask during your appointment. These may include:  

  • What’s the difference between osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis?  
  • Am I too young to have osteoarthritis?   
  • What causes osteoarthritis?  
  • What self-care measures can improve my symptoms?  
  • Do I have to give up exercise or other physical activities?  
  • How long before treatment starts working?   
  • What are the benefits, risks, and side effects of each treatment? 
  • What should I expect in the future?   
  • Will I need surgery?  
  • Is physical therapy a good treatment option for me?  
  • Which lifestyle measures complement my osteoarthritis treatment plan? 

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How is osteoarthritis treated?

closeup of a man's hands pouring out arthritis medication in capsule form

Osteoarthritis isn’t curable, but treatment can help you stay active and move more comfortably. The main goals of osteoarthritis treatment are to:   

A combination of treatments may be recommended to help you achieve these goals based on your symptoms, age, overall health, and the severity of your osteoarthritis.   

Medications for osteoarthritis 

Medication for osteoarthritis focuses on relieving joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. They can come in oral, topical, and injectable form.  

Oral pain relievers for osteoarthritis  

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These are medications that can help relieve joint pain and stiffness by reducing inflammation. NSAIDs are available in over the counter (OTC) form (such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen sodium) and in stronger prescription formulas.  
  • Acetaminophen: This OTC pain reliever can temporarily improve mild osteoarthritis symptoms.  
  • Duloxetine: This prescription antidepressant is also approved to treat chronic (long-term) pain related to conditions like osteoarthritis.    

Topical pain relievers for osteoarthritis 

There are also pain-relieving creams, gels, and sprays that can be applied directly to the skin over arthritic joints to ease discomfort in a specific area. Examples of topical treatments include:   

  • Capsaicin: A chemical found in hot chili peppers, capsaicin works by disrupting pain signals from the joint to the brain.  
  • Counterirritants: Topicals like camphor and menthol create heating and cooling sensations that can help soothe joint pain.  
  • Diclofenac: This prescription NSAID in topical form provides temporary relief from inflammation and pain.  
  • Salicylates: This topical pain reliever works similarly to aspirin.  

Joint injections for osteoarthritis 

In some cases of osteoarthritis, joint injections may be recommended to deliver anti-inflammatory or lubricating substances directly into the joint space:  

  • Hyaluronic acid injection: This is a lubricating, gel-like substance that occurs naturally in the body and can help cushion the knee joint. It may provide relief for some people with osteoarthritis, though the effectiveness of this method is up for debate.    
  • Cortisone injections: This anti-inflammatory medication may provide temporary pain relief when injected into the joint. Most HCPs recommend no more than three or four injections per year, since too much cortisone can worsen joint health over time.   

Supportive devices and tools for osteoarthritis 

Supportive devices like canes and walkers help move weight off hips and knees, reducing pressure on damaged joint surfaces and helping relieve osteoarthritis-related pain and swelling.   

Braces and orthotic devices, such as shoe inserts and knee braces, can also help support and stabilize joints and allow for more comfortable, balanced movement. Additionally, some people find it helpful to use long, handheld tools that grip and grab items so they can avoid bending down or reaching overhead.  

Weight control 

Maintaining a healthy weight is key to effectively managing osteoarthritis. This includes losing excess weight and preventing excess weight gain. According to the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance (OAA), losing just one pound can reduce four pounds of weight on the knees. If you’re overweight or obese, it’s important to speak with your HCP about what weight-loss strategies are ideal for your needs.   

You may benefit from working with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or certified exercise specialist who can help you lose weight safely and efficiently. An RDN can help you develop an eating plan to manage your weight and osteoarthritis symptoms. An exercise specialist, such as a certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist, can help you design an exercise plan to reach and maintain your weight goals safely and effectively. 


If moving your joints often leads to pain, it may seem counterintuitive that exercise can help with osteoarthritis symptoms. But staying active (to the best of your ability) is an important part of osteoarthritis treatment. Regularly engaging in low-impact exercise (or exercise that doesn’t place too much stress on your joints) can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight, boost your mood, and keep joint pain and stiffness in check.   

A few examples of joint-friendly, low-impact exercises include:  

  • Brisk walking  
  • Swimming  
  • Water aerobics  
  • Cycling  
  • Rowing 

The CDC encourages adults with arthritis to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. Moderate-intensity activities include exercises like brisk walking and cycling slower than 10 miles per hour. Vigorous-intensity activities include cycling faster than 10 miles per hour and light jogging.    

Incorporating muscle-strengthening activities into your fitness routine is also a good idea. The CDC recommends that people with arthritis focus on strengthening their muscles at least twice a week by doing exercises like yoga, lifting light weights, and moving with resistance bands. Regularly stretching and performing balance exercises—such as backwards walking or tai-chi—can also help preserve joint function and minimize your risk of falls.  

Before starting any exercise routine with osteoarthritis, be sure to talk with your HCP or certified exercise specialist. These professionals can make individualized fitness recommendations based on your age, symptoms, activity preferences, and overall health. As your osteoarthritis symptoms evolve, your activity levels may need to change, as well.   

Remember, a little physical activity is far better than none. Listen to your body, take breaks when needed, and do the best you can to stay active.  

Occupational and physical therapy  

Physical therapy uses gentle exercises to help ease pain and strengthen muscles that support joints. A specially trained physical therapist may also use nonsurgical techniques, such as transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) that uses mild electrical currents to treat pain. These methods can steadily improve flexibility and mobility.    

Similar to physical therapy, occupational therapy focuses on enhancing a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks while managing joint pain and stiffness. For example, an occupational therapist can provide you with custom-fitted orthotic shoe inserts or splints, or they can teach you how to perform routine tasks like taking out the garbage or typing on a computer keyboard while placing less strain on your joints.  

Hot and cold therapies 

Taking a relaxing, warm bath or placing an ice pack on an arthritic joint can ease osteoarthritis symptoms, especially after periods of physical activity. Heat helps soothe pain, improves blood flow, and relaxes muscles, while cold can reduce inflammation, stiffness, and aches.  

Joint surgery 

Surgery may be a viable treatment option if severe osteoarthritis symptoms don’t improve with conservative treatments like medication and physical therapy. Surgical treatments for osteoarthritis include:   

  • Total joint replacement (arthroplasty): Joint replacement surgery involves removing damaged components of a joint and replacing them with implants (called prostheses) to restore comfortable, fluid movement. Hip replacement and knee replacement surgeries are the most widely performed arthroplasties. Joint replacement surgery comes with risks and limitations, but advances in surgical techniques and joint prostheses have led to high success rates.    
  • Joint resurfacing: Also called partial joint replacement, joint resurfacing involves trimming away damaged cartilage and bone and replacing only a portion of a hip or knee joint. Joint resurfacing is generally more difficult to perform than total joint replacement, but it keeps more of the joint intact and may be appropriate for younger adults.    
  • Joint fusion (arthrodesis): As its name suggests, joint fusion surgery involves attaching several small bones together to provide stability to severely damaged joints. It’s usually performed in the spine, ankle, wrist, finger, or thumb.  
  • Osteotomy: Osteoarthritis sometimes affects one side of a joint more than the other, which can lead to misaligned hips or a bowed knee. An osteotomy corrects this by removing bone or adding a small piece of bone from elsewhere in the body to the femur (thighbone) or tibia (shinbone), which helps shift weight to the less-damaged side of the joint. 

Alternative medicine 

While not a replacement for conventional osteoarthritis treatment, alternative medicine techniques can help many people with joint pain and stiffness. You may find it beneficial to speak with your HCP about adding one or more of these alternative approaches to your treatment plan:  

  • Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese healing practice involves inserting very thin needles into specific points on the body, which may improve blood flow and provide anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects for some people with knee osteoarthritis.    
  • Yoga and tai chi: These gentle movement therapies involve deep breathing and stretching, both of which are helpful if you have joint pain. Before trying yoga or tai chi, make sure your instructor is aware you have osteoarthritis. Avoid movements that cause joint pain or become uncomfortable.   
  • Nutritional supplements: Research on supplements for osteoarthritis is mixed. Still, some people report positive results from taking supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin, or omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to talk to your HCP before starting or changing a supplement regimen, as some products may interact with other supplements or medications you take.  
  • Massage therapy: Treating yourself to a soothing massage can promote relaxation in addition to stimulating blood flow, easing muscle pain, and warming sore, arthritic joints.  

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What are the possible complications of osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that gets worse with time. If left untreated or poorly managed, symptoms can become severe and may significantly impact your mobility and quality of life. Dealing with joint pain from osteoarthritis might also leave you feeling tired, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.   

Bone spurs, also referred to as osteophytes, are a common complication of osteoarthritis. As joint cartilage wears away, the ends of bones can thicken and form these small, bony growths in an effort to repair the damage. Bone spurs typically form along the edges of existing bone, usually near joints. For instance, bony growths called Heberden nodes often form in the joints closest to the fingertips. Other bony growths called Bouchard nodes tend to develop in the middle of the fingers. 

While many bone spurs don’t cause noticeable symptoms, some can be seen and felt. Bone spurs that form on vertebrae (spinal bones) may pinch nerve roots or the spinal cord, triggering shooting pain, numbness, or tingling sensations. Bone spurs on the hips or knees can cause pain when moving the joint. It’s also possible for small pieces of bone or cartilage to break off and float in the joint space as the joint becomes increasingly damaged.   

Additionally, osteoarthritis pain can make it difficult to exercise and stay active, which may lead to weight gain and related issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, or heart disease. Joint pain and stiffness in the lower body may also impact balance and strength, increasing the risk of falls. Research shows that falls are a relatively common problem among people with knee osteoarthritis, particularly if they take pain medications such as opioids that may cause side effects, including dizziness, drowsiness, or low blood pressure. 

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Can you prevent osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is common among older adults, but it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. There are several steps you can take to help reduce your osteoarthritis risk and keep your joints healthy.   

Research suggests that maintaining a healthy weight and preventing injuries are the most effective ways to avoid osteoarthritis. If you’re overweight or obese, losing excess weight can lower your risk of osteoarthritis and several other serious conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Your HCP can help you design a weight-loss plan that’s tailored to your needs, but many people are able to lose weight by making sensible diet choices and exercising regularly.   

Before joining your local gym, though, it’s important to note that high-impact exercises can actually increase your risk of osteoarthritis. Try to avoid intense movements that place excess strain on your joints, such as sprinting, jumping, squatting, and lifting heavy weights. Instead, opt for lower-impact exercises like walking, swimming, cycling, and rowing.   

Staying active is key to maintaining a healthy weight, but it’s critical to implement proper injury prevention techniques while exercising, playing sports, and even simply walking around your house. According to the OAA, people who have sustained a knee injury are three to six times more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis, and half of all individuals with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury will develop knee osteoarthritis within 10 years.   

Here are a few basic injury prevention techniques that can help keep your joints healthy now and into the future:    

  • Create a fitness plan (with guidance from your HCP or certified exercise specialist) to help stay in shape and lower your risk of injury. This plan should include a combination of cardiovascular, strength-training, balance, and flexibility exercises.       
  • If you become tired or experience pain or discomfort when exercising or playing a sport, take a break.   
  • Whether you’re going to work or the gym, wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes that are appropriate for your job or activity of choice.    
  • Don’t forget to warm up before exercising, and to cool down afterwards. Your cooldown routine should be roughly twice as long as your warmup. A good warmup might involve dynamic stretches like arm circles, while a cooldown entails lighter or slower versions of your exercise moves, such as a walk after a jog, and light stretches.  
  • Wear the proper protective equipment for your sport, if you play one, and make sure all equipment fits well.     
  • Have your hearing and eye health regularly evaluated by an HCP to avoid hearing- or vision-related accidents. For example, it’s important to hear approaching cars or bicycles when walking outside and to avoid tripping over tangled power cords at home or work.  
  • Prioritize sleep. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, try sticking to a regular sleep schedule or creating a relaxing bedtime routine. Daytime sleepiness increases your risk of being involved in accidents at work or on the road.  
  • Familiarize yourself with the possible side effects of any medications or supplements you’re taking, as some may cause dizziness or sleepiness that can make injuries more likely.   
  • Fall-proof your home and workspace by ensuring there’s proper lighting and that walkways are clear of cords, loose rugs, and other tripping hazards.   

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What is the outlook for osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic, irreversible condition, but treatment and healthy lifestyle choices can help slow disease progression and improve symptoms like joint pain and stiffness. Joint replacement surgery can significantly improve mobility and comfort in many cases, though surgery is generally reserved for people with severe osteoarthritis symptoms. 

The outlook for osteoarthritis varies considerably. Some people experience only minimal disruptions to their daily routines, if any at all, while others contend with severe joint pain that impacts their quality of life. Your individual prognosis will depend on what joint or joints are affected, the severity of the disease, your age, your lifestyle, and your overall health. You’re a unique person, so your prognosis will be, as well.  

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Living with osteoarthritis

Senior man in a group with other seniors exercising with bands

Osteoarthritis may affect more than joints. According to a 2018 CDC analysis, around one in five adults in the U.S. with arthritis experiences symptoms of anxiety, compared to about one in nine adults without arthritis. Additionally, symptoms of depression are more than twice as common in people with arthritis than in people without arthritis, by a margin of 12.1 percent to 4.7 percent. Dealing with anxiety and depression symptoms is even linked to a poorer response to arthritis treatment.  

The good news is that it’s possible to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression through relaxation techniques. These may include deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. It can also help to share concerns with loved ones or a licensed mental health provider. Attending an in-person or online osteoarthritis support group can also improve your mental health by connecting you with people who face similar challenges.   

Regularly engaging in exercise is another reliable way to ease anxiety and depression symptoms. It can also help prevent osteoarthritis and improve your quality of life if you have osteoarthritis. Simple, low-impact exercises like walking and cycling can boost your mood and help keep osteoarthritis symptoms under control. If you’re unsure of what exercises to try, speak with your HCP. 

With this in mind, enjoying physical activity while living with osteoarthritis requires you to be “SMART,” according to the CDC. Be sure to protect your joints by following these exercise guidelines:   

  • S: Start low, go slow.  
  • M: Modify activity if osteoarthritis symptoms worsen.  
  • A: Activities should be easy on joints.  
  • R: Recognize safe places and ways to get active.  
  • T: Talk to an HCP or certified exercise specialist.  

Living well with osteoarthritis also involves following these strategies:  

Living with osteoarthritis presents challenges, but an effective osteoarthritis treatment plan combined with lifestyle choices that protect and support joint health can help you move with greater ease and comfort and keep OA symptoms at bay.  

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Featured osteoarthritis articles

Topic page sources
open topic sources

American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Accessed August 15, 2023.   

Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis. Accessed August 16, 2023.     

Arthritis Foundation. Testing for Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed June 15, 2022.   

Arthritis Foundation. Treatments for Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed June 15, 2022.   

Arthritis Foundation. Understanding Your Joint Surgery Options. Accessed August 21, 2023. 

Arthritis Foundation. When it’s Time to See a Doctor for Joint Pain. Accessed August 16, 2023.   

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis – What Types of Activities Should I Do? Last reviewed July 1, 2021.   

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Do I Exercise Safely with Arthritis? Last reviewed April 6, 2022.  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Osteoarthritis (OA). Last reviewed July 27, 2020. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity – Adults. Last reviewed June 2, 2022.  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity for Arthritis. Last reviewed January 5, 2022.    

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Arthritis-Mental Health Connection. Last reviewed October 12, 2021.  

Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis of the Knee. Last reviewed October 18, 2021.  

Cleveland Clinic. Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed November 26, 2019.    

Harvard Health Publishing. Exercise: Rx for Overcoming Osteoarthritis. Published June 24, 2019. 

John Hopkins Medicine. Osteoarthritis. Accessed August 15, 2023.   

John Hopkins Medicine. Preventing Sports Injuries. Accessed August 18, 2023. 

Lim YZ, Wong J, Hussain SM, et al. Recommendations for weight management in osteoarthritis: A systematic review of clinical practice guidelines. Osteoarthr Cartil Open. 2022;4(4):100298.  

Mayo Clinic. Bone Spurs. Last reviewed September 13, 2022. Mayo Clinic. Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed June 16, 2021.  

National Health System. Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed March 20, 2023. 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drowsy Driving. Accessed August 24, 2023. 

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed October 2019.     

National Institute on Aging. Falls and Fractures in Older Adults: Causes and Prevention. Last reviewed September 12, 2023.  

National Institute on Aging. Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed November 15, 2022.    

National Library of Medicine. Osteoarthritis. Last updated February 20, 2023.    

Osteoarthritis Action Alliance. Prevent OA. Accessed August 17, 2023.  

Stanford Healthcare. How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed? Accessed August 24, 2023. 

van Schoor NM, Dennison E, Castell MV, et al. Clinical osteoarthritis of the hip and knee and fall risk: The role of low physical functioning and pain medication. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2020;50(3):380-386.    

Vos T, Lim SS, Abbafati C, et al. Global Burden of 369 Diseases and Injuries in 204 Countries and territories, 1990–2019: a Systematic Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. The Lancet. 2020;396(10258):1204-1222.   

World Health Organization. Osteoarthritis. Last reviewed July 14, 2023.  

Yaseen K. Osteoarthritis (OA). Merck Manual Consumer Version. Last reviewed/updated December 2022.

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