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Osteoarthritis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What is Osteoarthritis? Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Complications and Treatment of Osteoarthritis...

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic and long-lasting joint condition.

This disease also is known as a degenerative disease, or degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition which affects the joints, which results from results from breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone.

A joint is a place where two bones come together. The ends of such bones are covered with protective tissue called cartilage.

With this disease, this cartilage breaks down, causing the bones within the joint to rub together. This condition can cause pain, stiffness, and other symptoms.

This is the most common type of arthritis and is seen especially among older people above fifty years of age. People with osteoarthritis generally suffer from symptoms of joint pain and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis affects only joint functions unlike rheumatoid arthritis, in which the immune system of the body attacks the tissues of the joints, erodes the lining on the joints causing inflammation, swelling, pain and deformity.

Osteoarthritis affects more than 30 million men and women in the United States.

How does osteoarthritis occur?

As mentioned above, all of our joints are covered by a tough but slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they meet to form the joint.

Healthy cartilage apart from absorbing shock during physical movement helps our bones to glide smoothly over one another.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the surface layer of cartilage to breaks and erode away and our body is not able to repair joint tissue in the usual way.

Without the protective cartilage, the bones at the joints rub together against each other, which can cause pain, swelling, and loss of normal shape and motion of the joint.

Small pieces of bone or cartilage can also break off and float within the joint space which can cause more pain and damage.

In addition, small deposits of bone which are called osteophytes can grow on the edges of the joint.

What are the causes of osteoarthritis?

Many factors can increase the risk of osteoarthritis includes:

Ageing: It is seen that people older than fifty years are prone to this disease, which could be due to the muscles weakening and the body’s inability to heal itself as it did in younger years.

Gender: Since women are more susceptible to injuries, they are more prone to this disease than men. In fact, the rate of osteoarthritis in women shoots up after the menopause. Therefore experts believe that the female hormone estrogen may affect arthritis risk.

Vitamin D Deficiency: Individual with a lower level of vitamin D intake has a higher risk of osteoarthritis.

Vitamin C Deficiency: In people suffering from Vitamin C deficiency are observed this condition progresses faster.

Sudden changes in the weather: People with osteoarthritis are very much sensitive to cold and damp weather.

Hormones: the rate of this disease in women shoots up after menopause. Therefore experts believe that the female hormone estrogen is linked with arthritis risk. Women also experience much more severe knee osteoarthritis after the menopause.

Previous Joint Injuries: People with previous joint injuries are at higher risk to osteoarthritis

Other Medical Conditions: Sometimes osteoarthritis is a result of damage from a different kind of joint disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or gout.

Lack of Exercise: People who lead a sedentary life are at high risk of this disease.

Obesity: Obesity can cause osteoarthritis because the joints are under increased strain.

Other causes: Some other causes of joint damage include past injury, such as Torn cartilage, Dislocated joints, Ligament injuries.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

The symptoms of osteoarthritis are:

  • Joint aching and soreness, mostly with movement
  • Pain after overwork and after long periods of inactivity
  • Stiffness in the joints after periods of rest particularly in the knees, hips, and lower back
  • Bony enlargements of the middle and end joints of the fingers
  • Joint swelling
  • Clicking and cracking sound when a joint bends
  • Pain that is worse after some activity or toward the end of the day

This disease affects different parts of the body in different ways, like:

Hips: Pain is felt in the groin area or buttocks and sometimes on the inside of the thigh or Knee.

Knees: A “grating” or “scraping” sensation is felt when moving the knee or even Sometimes the grating sound is also heard.

Fingers: Bony growths (spurs) at the edge of joints can cause fingers to become tender, swollen and red. There can be a pain at the base of the thumb.

Feet: Pain, tenderness, and stiffness sensation are felt in the large joint at the base of the big toe. Swelling can also occur in the ankles or toes.

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis

A doctor can diagnose osteoarthritis based on the symptoms, a physical exam, and some tests.

He can also prescribe the medications to relieve the symptoms. However, if the condition is too severe he will refer you to a rheumatologist or an osteopathic physician.

During the physical exam the doctor will check for:

  • Joint tenderness
  • Creaking or grating (crepitus) sounds
  • Bony swelling
  • Excess fluid
  • Reduced movement
  • Joint instability
  • Muscle thinning

He can suggest the following tests for confirmation:

Blood tests – It will help rule out other types of arthritis.

X-rays – It can display bony spurs or narrowing of the space between the bones. They’ll also show whether any calcium has settled in the joint.

Magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRI) – Rarely, an MRI scan of your knee will be helpful. This will show the soft tissues like, cartilage, tendons, and muscles and changes in your bone that can’t be seen on a standard x-ray.

osteoarthritis disease
Image Credit : Colorado Pain

Who is at higher risk to osteoarthritis?

Some people are at higher risk to osteoarthritis than others. They are:

  • Women older than 45 years (You can read: Women above 40 years must undergo this 10 medical test)
  • People with a family history of this disease
  • People older than 50 years
  • A person who has suffered from joint injuries
  • People who are obese since obesity puts increased stress and strain to the joints
  • People with jobs that are physically strenuous like those involves too much walking, weight lifting, kneeling or squatting for many hours at a stretch
  • Individuals with a poor posture
  • Existing medical conditions including osteonecrosis, Paget’s disease of bone, diabetes, gout, thyroid disorder
  • People who lead a sedentary life
  • People who are highly stressed (You can read: Foods that reduces depression and keeps you relaxed)

What are the complications of osteoarthritis?

The complications of osteoarthritis can be:

  • A complete breakdown of cartilage leads to loose tissue material in the joints
  • Bone death, which is also known as osteonecrosis
  • Stress fractures
  • Bleeding inside the joints
  • Infection in the joints
  • Rupture of the tendons and ligaments around the joint
  • Pinched nerve (in the spine)

What is the treatment for osteoarthritis?

Medical Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Based on the condition the doctor can prescribe painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines.

There are a number of various types of medications that can help provide relief from pain or swelling, Such as:

  • Oral analgesics: Acetaminophen and other pain relievers reduce pain but not swelling.
  • Topical analgesics: Such OTC products are available as creams, gels, and patches.
  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and Aleve naproxen reduce swelling as well as pain.
  • Antidepressants: Your doctor can prescribe the antidepressant such as duloxetin for you off-label to help provide OA pain relief.
  • Corticosteroids: These prescription medications are available in oral form or can also be given by injection directly into a joint.

In severe cases, the doctor can ask you to undergo joint surgery that can repair or replace severely damaged joints, especially hips or knees.

Surgical and other procedures:

  • Cortisone injections
  • Lubrication injections
  • Realigning bones
  • Joint replacement

He may also suggest you undergo occupational therapy.


Exercising is very beneficial for one who is suffering from osteoarthritis. There are 3 kinds of exercise are important for osteoarthritis patients:

  • Exercises which involves a range of motion also called flexibility exercises which include stretching the joints through their full span
  • Endurance or aerobic exercises which help to strengthen your heart
  • Strengthening exercises to improve the muscle strength

Other therapy can be:

  • Weight Loss: Being obese can put a strain on your joints and cause pain. Weight loss helps relieve this pressure and reduces pain.  (You can Read: Avoid these 8 foods to control your Belly Fat )
  • Adequate Sleep: Resting the muscles can reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Apply a cold or hot compress to sore joints for 15 – 20 minutes several times a day can help relieve the symptoms of this disease.

Natural Treatment and Diet:

Alternative treatments and supplements can help to relieve symptoms such as inflammation and joint pain.

Some supplements or herbs that can help are:

  • Fish oil
  • Green tea
  • Ginger
  • Glucosamine

Other alternative treatment options are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy

A high-quality diet can help provide relief from osteoarthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation and swelling.

Eating foods high in the following can be highly beneficial in this disease:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Beta-carotene
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

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