What is Osteoarthritis?

It is the most common form of joint disease and represents a leading cause of disability among the elderly. OA is a slowly progressive arthritis that is typically seen in middle-aged to elderly people. The place where 2 bones meet is normally covered with a rubbery material called cartilage. This material allows the bones to slide over each other without causing pain. The disease occurs when the joint cartilage breaks down often because of mechanical stress or biochemical alterations, causing the bone underneath to fail. With this condition there are also bony changes of the joints, as well as deterioration of tendons and ligaments, and various degrees of inflammation.

It is commonly referred to as OA or as “wear and tear” of the joints, but we now know that OA is a disease of the entire joint, involving the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and bone. Although it is more common in older people, it is not really accurate to say that the joints are just “wearing out.” OA can occur as a primary entity; however, it can also occur together with other types of arthritis, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

How common it this arthritis?

About 27 million Americans are living with OA, the most common form of joint disease. Studies suggest that the lifetime risk of developing OA of the knee is about 46%, and the lifetime risk of developing OA of the hip is 25%.

What are the joints typically affected by OA?

OA tends to affect commonly used joints such as the hands, great toes, and spine, and the weight bearing joints such as the hips and knees.

What are the most common symptoms of OA?

OA symptoms (what you feel) can vary greatly among patients. The most common symptoms include joint pain and stiffness, joint swelling, grinding noise with joint movement, and decreased function of the joint.

Who gets osteoarthritis?

OA affects people of all races and both sexes. Most often, it occurs in patients age 40 and older. However, it can occur sooner in the presence of other risk factors including family history of OA, obesity, joint injury or repetitive use (overuse) of joints, joint deformity such as unequal leg length, and bowlegs or knocked knees.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Most often doctors detect OA based on the typical symptoms and on results of the physical exam. In some cases, X-rays or other imaging tests may be useful to tell the extent of disease or to help rule out other joint problems. A rheumatologist can detect arthritis and prescribe the proper treatment.

Osteoarthritis of the knee

The bones that meet at a joint usually do not rub against each other because they are covered by a rubbery material called cartilage. In people with osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears away, and the bones can grind against each other. Sometimes the bones also form spurs.