Osteoarthritis

  • Basics

    Osteoarthritis is characterized by chronic and often disabling pain and stiffness of one or more joints, particularly those of the fingers, spine, hips, knees, and feet Figure 01. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and was once called degenerative joint disease. Most people who are affected by osteoarthritis are middle-aged or older.

    Click to enlarge: Osteoarthritis: Common pain sites

    Figure 01. Osteoarthritis: Common pain sites

    Cartilage is the tissue that cushions the joints. In osteoarthritis, this tissue becomes cracked and pitted and no longer allows smooth movement of the joint. When cartilage wears away in a weight-bearing joint such as the hip or knee, it can produce severe pain, deformity, and loss of mobility.

    While there is no medication that can slow or prevent osteoarthritis, there are medications that can ease the pain and increase your joint mobility. In addition, there are many forms of self-care techniques you can use to help with the pain, including controlling your weight, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, and applying heat and cold to the joints to relieve stiffness.

    Because there is no absolute cure for the condition, you will have to take your medications regularly and use self-care techniques every day. Depending on the severity of your osteoarthritis, you may have difficult days where your normal activities are disrupted by stiffness and aches. Yet arthritis doesn't have to keep you from doing the things you enjoy. By learning what you can do to control symptoms, you can continue to lead an active and healthy life.

  • Causes

    Osteoarthritis occurs when the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones in a joint (cartilage) degenerates Figure 02. Cartilage keeps the joint flexible and provides protection between the bones. When the cartilage breaks down, the bones rub against each other, resulting in pain and loss of movement. Bony spurs may form around the joint, causing pain and inflammation. The exact causes for why the cartilage breaks down is unclear.

    Click to enlarge: Osteoarthritis of the hip

    Figure 02. Osteoarthritis of the hip

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