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Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs most often in older people. This disease affects the tissue covering the ends of bones in a joint called cartilage. In a person with osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes damaged and worn out causing pain, swelling, stiffness and restricted movement in the affected joint. This condition most commonly affects the joints in the hips, knees, hands, and spine. Rarely, the disease may affect the shoulders, wrists and feet.

Causes and Risk Factors

Osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing out of the cartilage covering the bone ends in a joint. This may be due to being overweight, excessive strain over prolonged periods of time, previous fracture, growth abnormalities, joint diseases, injury or deformity.

Some people have congenital abnormalities of the joints-for example, Perthes' disease of the Hips-that cause early degeneration and subsequently cause osteoarthritis.


The common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Joint pain that often gets worse after exercise or excessive pressure on a joint
  • Joint stiffness particularly in the morning
  • Cracking or grinding noise with joint movement
  • Decreased function of the joint


Doctors diagnose osteoarthritis with a medical history, physical exam and x-rays of the affected joint. During the physical examination, your doctor will examine the affected joint for swelling, pain, tenderness, and assess the joint’s range of motion. An X-ray of the affected joint may show a loss of joint space and bone spur formation.

There is no blood test for osteoarthritis.


There is no known cure for osteoarthritis; however, there are several treatments and lifestyle modifications that can help you ease your pain and symptoms. The objective of the treatment is to reduce pain, improve joint movement, and prevent further damage to joints.

The treatment of osteoarthritis involves:

  • Medications: Medications may include different classes such as anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections, artificial joint fluid injections, and other drugs.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Some of the lifestyle modifications include:
  • A moderate exercise program
  • Use of Heat or cold treatments
  • Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet
  • Get adequate rest
  • Lose weight
  • Protect your joints with the use of assistive devices such as splints or braces to support the weakened joints
  • Physical therapy: Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to keep joints flexible and improve muscle strength.

Surgery: Surgery is usually considered if nonsurgical treatment fails to provide relief. There are different surgical procedures that can be used and may include:

  • Arthroscopic surgery to repair or trim torn or damaged cartilage
  • Changing the alignment of the bone to relieve pressure on the joint (osteotomy)
  • Spinal fusion, also called arthrodesis, involves the removal of the joints and fusing the bones of the joint together using metal wires or screws.
  • Joint replacement surgery is considered as an option when the pain is so severe that it affects your ability to carry out normal activities.

Your surgeon will discuss the options and help you decide which type of surgery is the most appropriate for you.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of Arthritis and occurs most often in older people. Osteoarthritis may affect any joint including the joints in your hips, knees, hands, and spine. Osteoarthritis treatment often includes medication, exercise, and sometimes joint replacement surgery.

  • American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
  • Society of Military Orthopedic Surgeons
  • The Arthroscopy Association of North America
  • American Orthopedic Society for Sports mMedicine