Osteoarthritis Information

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (AH-stee-oh-ar-THREYE-tis) is the most common form of arthritis. It is also known as degenerative joint disease, OA, or osteoarthritis. It is what people generally think of when they think of arthritis, as it commonly affects middle aged to elderly individuals.

What causes the pain?

Joints consist of bones, with various types of sockets or connections that link one bone end to another. Some bones just slide across each other, while others like the hip joint use a ball and socket. Between the bone ends there is a protective, slippery layer known as cartilage (KAR-til-uj). Whenever you move a joint, bones rub together. In people without arthritis, the cartilage’s job is to protect the bones when they rub against each other by acting as a shock absorber or cushion. Think of it as a thick, smooth coating for the joints. In osteoarthritis, that coating breaks down over and wears away. When the cartilage is thin or gone, bones can rub directly together.

What are the results?

While bones can break, most of the time they are very strong and rigid. When they rub together directly on each other, the immediate result is generally pain, swelling, and a loss of mobility. If this continues, the ends of the bone may even lose their original shape, causing deformities. Bone spurs – small growths on the bone that make the surface even less smooth – can grow. Small pieces of bone or cartilage can break off and float around inside the joint, further causing pain and inflammation. In severe cases of osteoarthritis, you can sometimes even hear the bones making a grinding noise as they rub together. As you can see, osteoarthritis is one of the worst forms of arthritis due to the continual effects it has on people’s joints.

How can I tell if I have osteoarthritis?

Only your doctor can make an accurate diagnosis of Osteoarthritis, but some warning signs may include pain in weight bearing joints such as the knee or hip, pain during joint movement, swelling of the joints or even pain in your joints during strenuous activities. An X-ray will generally confirm the presence of osteoarthritis. Most people over the age of 60 will have radiographic (x-ray) evidence of the disease. Roughly one third will have active symptoms. Fortunately, there are things you can do that will dramatically lower your chances of winding up in that third with pain. If you already have pain, there are things you can do as well that will enable you to start living a more pain free life.

Who is at risk?

Anybody over the age of 45 is in the greatest risk range for developing osteoarthritis. Women are slightly more at risk than men, for reasons that we do not fully understand yet.

Information obtained from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) booklet on osteoarthritis. Their booklet is not copyrighted.

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