What is osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain and inflammation in joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type. It’s a long-term (chronic), degenerative joint disease. Degenerative means that it gets worse over time. It affects mostly middle-aged and older adults. OA causes the breakdown of joint cartilage. It can occur in any joint. But it most often affects the hands, knees, hips, or spine.
What causes osteoarthritis?
OA can be called primary or secondary. Primary OA has no known cause. Secondary OA is caused by another disease, infection, injury, or deformity. OA starts with the breakdown of cartilage in the joint. As the cartilage wears down, the bone ends may thicken and form bony growths. These growths are called bone spurs. Bone spurs can limit joint movement. Bits of bone and cartilage may float in the joint space. Fluid-filled cysts may form in the bone. These can also limit joint movement.
Who is at risk for osteoarthritis?
The risk factors of OA include:
- Heredity. Some genetic problems may lead to OA. These include slight joint defects or joints that are too loose.
- Extra weight. Being overweight can put stress on such joints as the knees over time.
- Injury or overuse. Severe injury to a joint, such as the knee, can lead to OA. Injury may also result from overuse or misuse over time.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
The most common symptom of OA is pain after overuse or inactivity of a joint. Symptoms usually happen slowly over years. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person. They may include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness, especially after sleep or inactivity
- Less movement in the joint over time
- A grinding feeling in the joint when moved, as the cartilage wears away (in later stages)
The symptoms of OA can be like other health conditions. Make sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
The process starts with a health history and a physical exam. You may also have X-rays. This test uses a small amount of radiation to create images of bone and other body tissues.