Osteoarthritis: All You Need to Know

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic joint condition, it is the main cause of disability.

A joint is where two bones meet. The ends of these bones are covered with protective tissue called cartilage. Osteoarthritis causes this cartilage to break down, making the bones within the joint to rub together, leading to stiffness, pain, and other symptoms pain, stiffness, and other symptoms.

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Osteoarthritis mostly affects older people, although it can equally affect adults of any age. OA is also called degenerative joint disease, degenerative arthritis, and wear-and-tear arthritis.

Osteoarthritis causes

OA is caused by joint damage. This damage can accumulate over time, which is why age is one of the main causes of the joint damage leading to osteoarthritis. The older you are, the more wear and tear you’ve had on your joints.

Other causes of joint damage include past injury, such as:

  • torn cartilage
  • dislocated joints
  • ligament injuries

They also include joint malformation, obesity, and poor posture. Certain risk factors, such as family history and gender, increase your risk of osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis and cartilage

Cartilage is a tough, rubbery substance that’s flexible and softer than bone. Its job is to protect the ends of bones within a joint and allow them to move easily against each other.

When cartilage breaks down, these bone surfaces become pitted and rough. This can cause pain within the joint, and irritation in surrounding tissues. Damaged cartilage can’t repair itself. This is because cartilage doesn’t contain any blood vessels.

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When cartilage wears away completely, the cushioning buffer that it provides disappears, allowing for bone-on-bone contact. This can cause extreme pain and other symptoms associated with OA.

Osteoarthritis symptoms

OA can affect any joint. However, the most commonly affected areas of the body include the knees, hands, fingertips, hips, and spine (for spine, it affects the lower back and neck)

The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • tenderness(discomfort when pressing on the area with your fingers)
  • pain
  • tenderness stiffness
  • inflammation

As osteoarthritis becomes more advanced, the pain associated with it may become more extreme. Over time, swelling in the joint and surrounding area may also occur. Recognizing the early symptoms of OA can help you to better manage the condition.

Severe osteoarthritis

OA is a progressive condition with five stages, from 0 to 4. The first stage (0) represents a normal joint. Stage 4 represents severe OA. Not everyone who has OA will progress all the way to stage 4. The condition often alleviates long before reaching this stage.

People with severe OA have extensive or complete loss of cartilage in one or more joints. The bone-on-bone friction associated with this can cause severe symptoms such as:

  • Increased swelling and inflammation.Synovial fluid helps to reduce friction within the joint. However, in larger amounts, this fluid can cause joint swelling. Fragments of broken-off cartilage may also float within the synovial fluid, increasing pain and swelling.
  • Increased pain.You may feel pain during activities, but also when you’re at rest. You may feel an increase in your pain level as the day progresses, or more swelling in your joints if you’ve used them a lot throughout the day.
  • Decreased range of motion.You may not be able to move well due to stiffness or pain in your joints. This can make it difficult to enjoy the day-to-day activities that used to come effortlessly.
  • Joint instability.Your joints may become less stable. For instance, if you have severe OA in your knees, you may experience sudden lack of movement, a condition called locking. You may also experience buckling (when your knee gives out), which can cause falls and injury.
  • Other symptoms.As a joint continues to wear down, muscle weakness, bone spurs, and joint deformity may invtrsdrqw.

The joint damage caused by severe OA is irreversible, however treatment can help manage symptoms.

Osteoarthritis vs. rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis OA, and rheumatoid arthritis, RA share the same symptoms but are very different conditions. OA is a degenerative condition, which means that it increases in severity over time. RA, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder.

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People with RA have immune systems that mistake the soft lining around joints to be a threat to the body, causing it to attack that area. This soft lining is called synovium, it includes the synovial fluid. As the immune system launches its assault, fluid accumulation within the joint occurs, causing stiffness, pain, swelling, and inflammation.

If you’re not sure which form of arthritis you have, your best bet is to discuss with your doctor. But you can also do your own research.

Osteoarthritis diagnosis

OA is often a slow-developing disease that can be hard to diagnose until it starts to cause painful or incapacitating symptoms. Early osteoarthritis is often diagnosed after an accident or other incident that causes a fracture requiring an X-ray. Also, your doctor may use an MRI scan to diagnose OA. This imaging test uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create images of bone and soft tissue.

Other diagnostic tests include a blood test to rule out other conditions that cause joint pain, such as RA. A joint fluid analysis can also be used to determine whether gout or infection is the underlying cause of inflammation.

Osteoarthritis treatment

For osteoarthritis, the type of treatment that will mostly help you will largely be determined by the severity of your symptoms and their location. Often, lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) medication, and home remedies will be enough to provide you with relief from swelling, pain, and stiffness. At-home treatments and lifestyle changes for OA include:


Physical activity strengthens the muscles around your joints and may help ease stiffness. Go for at least 20 to 30 minutes of physical movement, at least every other day. Engage in gentle, low-impact activities, such as walking or swimming. Yoga and Tai chi can also improve joint flexibility.

Weight loss

Excess weight can mount strain on your joints. Shedding excess pounds helps relieve this pressure and eases pain. A healthy weight can also lower your risk of other health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

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Adequate sleep

Resting your muscle can reduce swelling and inflammation. Be kind to yourself and don’t overdo it. Sufficient night sleep can also help you to manage pain more effectively.

Heat and cold therapy

Heat and cold therapy can also be used to relieve muscle pain and stiffness. This can be achieved by applying a cold or hot compress to sore joints for 15 to 20 minutes several times daily.

Exercises for osteoarthritis

Exercises that can be very helpful for people with OA includes gentle stretching, especially if you have stiffness or pain in your knees, hips, or back. Stretching can help mend mobility and range of motion. Check with your doctor before beginning any form of exercises.

Osteoarthritis medications

Different types of OA medications that can help provide relief from pain or swelling include:

  • Oral analgesics. Tylenol (acetaminophen) and other pain relievers reduce pain but not swelling.
  • Topical analgesics.These OTC products are available as creams, gels, and patches. They help to numb the joint area and can provide pain relief for mild arthritis pain.
  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). NSAIDssuch as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) ease swelling and pain.
  • Your doctor may prescribe the antidepressant to help provide OA pain relief.
  • These prescription medications are available in oral form. They may also be given by injection directly into a joint.

Your doctor may recommend you try OTC solutions as a first line of defense.

Osteoarthritis natural treatments

Alternative treatments and supplements may help to relieve symptoms such as inflammation and joint pain. Some supplements or herbs that may help include:

  • Ginger
  • Fish oil
  • Glucosamine
  • Green tea

Other alternative treatment options include:

  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • physical therapy

It is best to first consult with your doctor any herbs or supplements you’re considering before you use them. This will help ensure that they’re safe and effective, and won’t interfere with other medications you’re taking. Interested in more natural home remedies for OA? Here’s what works.

Osteoarthritis diet

There’s no problem to eating healthy, but if you have OA, diet and nutrition are very important. First off, you’ll want to keep your weight in a normal range to reduce unnecessary pressure on your joints.

Diets rich in flavonoids, which are found in fruits and vegetables and antioxidants may help fight off the free radicals produced by inflammation. Free radicals are molecules that can cause cell damage. Eating foods high in the following can be highly beneficial:

  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • beta-carotene
  • omega-3 fatty acids

Osteoarthritis in your hands

One or several of a person’s hands can be affected by osteoarthritis. These areas often include the tips of the fingers, the middle knuckle of each finger, the joint connecting the thumb and the wrist, and the wrist itself. The joints that are affected largely determine the symptoms that occur. These symptoms often include:

  • pain
  • stiffness
  • weakness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • trouble moving your fingers
  • reduced range of motion
  • crunching sound when you move your fingers
  • trouble gripping or holding onto objects

Women are more susceptible to to OA in the hand than men, and usually get it at a younger age. Hand OA can have a big impact on your ability to perform the tasks associated with day-to-day activities. However, treatments ranging from lifestyle changes to surgery can help.

Osteoarthritis in your hips

OA can occur in one or both hips. In this way it differs from RA, which usually occurs in both hips at the same time. Hip OA is a slowly degenerative condition. Many people find that they’re able to combat their symptoms for many years by using medication, exercise, and physical therapy.

Osteoarthritis in your knees

Knee OA can occur in one or both knees. Age, genetics, and knee injury may all play a role in knee OA.

Athletes who concentrate solely on one sport that creates extensive, repetitive motion, such as running or tennis, may be at increased risk of OA. Likewise, if you pursue only one type of physical activity, this may overuse some muscles and underuse others, causing weakness and instability in the knee joint. Varying your activities helps to work different muscle groups, allowing all the muscles around your knee to be strengthened.

Osteoarthritis knee brace

Wearing a brace around your knee can be an excellent nonsurgical treatment for knee OA. Braces can reduce swelling and pressure. They can also increase stability in your knee by shifting your weight away from the damaged part of your knee. This allows for greater mobility.

There are several types of knee braces. Some may be custom fitted for you, and others are available OTC. Your doctor may recommend that you try different kinds of braces for different activities. 

Cervical osteoarthritis

Cervical OA is also referred to as neck OA or as cervical spondylosis. It occurs in both men and women. The cervical spine is located in the neck and contains facet joints. These joints help to maintain flexibility in the spine, allowing for a full range of movement When the cartilage around the facet joints starts to wear away, cervical OA results.

Cervical OA doesn’t always cause symptoms. If it does, symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:

  • pain in your shoulder blade, down your arm, or in your fingers
  • muscle weakness
  • stiffness in your neck
  • headache, mostly in the back of your head
  • tingling or numbness down your arms or legs

Occasionally, more serious symptoms can occur, such as loss of bladder or bowel control, or loss of balance.

Spinal osteoarthritis

Spinal osteoarthritis mostly causes back pain. This condition affects the facet joints located in the lower back and buttocks. Old age and any form of trauma on the spine are both potential factors in spinal OA. Women are more likely than men to get this condition. People who are overweight, or whose jobs require squatting and sitting, may also be at increased risk.

Spinal OA’s symptoms can vary in severity. They include:

Osteoarthritis prevention

Hereditary, age, and gender may be some osteoarthritis symptoms that you cannot prevent. However, other risk factors can be controlled, and managing them can help reduce your risk of OA.

The following tips can help you manage the risk factors under your control:

  • Support your body.If you’re an athlete or an avid exerciser, ensure you care for your body. Wear athletic supports and shoes that reduce impact on your knees.
  • Watch your weight
  • Maintain a healthy diet.Eat lots of healthy foods, with a focus on fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Get enough rest.Give your body sufficient opportunities to sleep.

If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can also help manage your risk of OA.

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