What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is also called degenerative joint disease or wear and tear arthritis.  It occurs more frequently in the hands, hips, and knees. 

With osteoarthritis, the cartilage within a joint begins to break down and the underlying bones begins to change.  These changes usually develop slowly and get worse over time. Osteoarthritis can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling.  In come cases, it limits function and causes disability; some people are no longer able to do daily tasks or work. 

On This Page
What is Osteoarthritis?
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
How Many People Have Osteoarthritis?
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
What are the Risk Factors?
How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?
How is Osteoarthritis Treated?
How Can I Improve My Quality of Life?

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

  • Pain or aching
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion or flexibility
  • Swelling

How Many People Have Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis affects more than 30 million US adults. 

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by damage or breakdown of joint cartilage between bones. 

What are Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis

  • Joint injury or overuse - Injury or overuse, such as knee bending and repetitive stress on a joint, can damage a joint and increase the risk of osteoarthritis in that joint. 
  • Age - The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age.
  • Gender - Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men, especially after age 50.
  • Obesity - Extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joint like hips and knees.  This stress increases the risk of osteoarthritis in these joints. Obesity may also have metabolic effects that increase the risk of osteoarthritis. 
  • Genetics - People who have family members with osteoarthritis are more likely to develop the disease.  
  • Race - Some Asian populations have a lower risk for osteoarthritis. 

How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed

A doctor diagnoses osteoarthritis through a review of symptoms, physical examination, x-rays, and lab tests. 

How is Osteoarthritis Treated

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, doctors treat osteoarthritis symptoms with a combination of therapies, which may include the following:

   Physical Activity for Arthritis

Some people are concerned that physical activity will make their arthritis worse, but joint-friendly physical activity can actually relieve arthritis pain, improve function and quality of life. 

Learn more about how important physical activity is for people with arthritis and how to exercise safely. 

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Physical therapy with muscle strengthening exercises
  • Weight loss
  • Medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription drugs
  • Supportive devices such as canes
  • Surgery, if other treatments options are not effective

In addition to these treatments, people can gain confidence in managing their osteoarthritis with self-management strategies.  These strategies help reduce pain and disability so people with osteoarthritis can purse the activities that are important to them. These five simple and effective arthritis management strategies can help. 

How Can I Manage Osteoarthritis and Improve My Quality of Life

The Centers for Disease Arthritis program recommends five self-management strategies for managing arthritis and its symptoms. 

  • Learn self-management skills - Join a self-management education class, which helps people with arthritis and other chronic conditions-including osteoarthritis-understand how arthritis affects their lives and increases their confidence in controlling their symptoms and living well.  Learn more about the CDC-recommended self-management education programs. 
  • Get physically active -  Experts recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes per week of at least moderate physical activity. Every minute of activity counts, and any activity is better than none. Moderate, low impact activities recommended include walking, swimming, or biking.  Regular physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  Learn more about physical activity for arthritis. 
    • Go to effective physical activity programs - For people who worry that physical activity may make osteoarthritis worse or are unsure how to exercise safely, participation in activity programs can help reduce pain and disability related to arthritis and improve mood and and the ability to move. Classes take place at local Ys, parks, and community centers. These classes help people with osteoarthritis feel better.  Learn more about CDC recommended physical activity programs. 
  • Talk to your doctor - You can play an active role in controlling your arthritis by attending regular appointment with your healthcare provider and following your recommended treatment plan. This is especially important if you also have other chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease. 
  • Lose Weight - For people who are overweight or obese, losing weight reduces pressure on joints, particularly weight bearing joints like the hips and knees.  Reaching or maintaining a healthy weight can relieve pain, improve function, and slow the progression of osteoarthritis. 
  • Protect your joints - Joint injuries can cause or worsen arthritis. Choose activities that are easy on the joints like walking, bicycling, and swimming.  These low-impact exercises have a low risk of injury and do not twist or put too much stress on the joints.  Learn more about exercise safely with arthritis. 

Learn More about Osteoarthritis

Learn More about Arthritis

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