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Osteoarthritis: Fast Facts

Reviewed By: Vikas Garg, M.D., MSA

  • OA is the most common type of arthritis. It can cause you stiffness, pain in some specific joints and reduced movement.

  • It usually affects joints in the knees and hips that support your body weight and in the joints with the most movement. These include the hips, knees, feet and hands and are known as cartilaginous and synovial joints. It also occurs commonly in the spine.

  • There's no known cure for OA, but symptoms can be controlled.

  • OA treatment focuses on pain management, improving function and slowing down wear and tear on the joints.

  • Cases of OA that begin without a known cause are called primary OA. Secondary OA occurs after injury or overuse of a particular joint.

  • OA can impair your ability to stand, walk, climb and do other physical activities, especially if you feel it in the hips or knees.

  • Most OA damage happens because cartilage deteriorates. With less cartilage, more bone exposure and ragged surfaces, the joint cavity becomes smaller and moving your affected joints becomes painful or difficult. New bone development can happen, causing "spurs," which again causes pain with movement of the joint.

  • OA is not the same as osteoporosis, another condition that is common in elderly people. Osteoporosis is a reduction in bone mass that makes bones more brittle and easily broken. OA does not affect bone mass.

  • The course of OA varies depending on the person. You may experience a slight ache in one joint that never gets any worse. Other people may have morning stiffness or pain with exercise.

  • There isn't a cure for OA, so treatment focuses on relieving pain and stopping the disease from getting worse. Once OA is diagnosed, symptoms may be treated with methods such as pain relievers, rest and exercise, thermal treatments, massage, physical therapy or occupational therapy. In some cases the doctor may recommend injections of hyaluronic acid, using a synthetic version of the fluid in the joint capsule, or a corticosteroid injection into the joint.

  • Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and use of assistive devices (such as jar openers, shower benches or canes) may help people in certain situations.

  • Some people use nutritional supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, in an effort to relieve the pain from OA. However, research on their effectiveness has produced mixed results, and they are not inspected or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

  • If a joint is seriously deteriorated, surgery to fuse bones together or replace the affected joint may have to be performed.

  • Diagnosis of OA typically begins with a physical examination and a doctor's review of your medical history, with special focus placed on any arthritic conditions that run in your family, previous injuries or surgeries, and how you tend to use the joints.

  • Laboratory tests cannot diagnose OA. However, various blood tests may be used to rule out other kinds of arthritis or other similar conditions.

  • Physical therapy or occupational therapy may help your OA by improving your flexibility, strength, endurance, range of motion, balance and function. Improvement in these areas may help reduce the symptoms of OA and prevent further deterioration.

  • Physical therapists can also provide assistive devices to stabilize the joint and make it easier to move. Examples include braces, canes, walkers and electric power lifts.

  • Occupational therapists (OTs) offer instruction in joint protection and energy conservation, make splints and give recommendations on ways to execute daily tasks more easily, such as dressing, bathing and household chores.

  • Factors that increase your risk for developing OA include advanced age, excess weight, heredity, joint injury, sex (being female) and certain medical conditions.



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