What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the oldest and most common form of arthritis. Also called degenerative joint disease this arthritis is due to “wear and tear” of your joints and bones. In OA, the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down leading to pain, stiffness and swelling. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it occurs most often in knees, hips, spine, small joints of the fingers, and the base of the thumb and big toe.

Risk factors for OA include being overweight, joint injury, muscle weakness, having other forms of arthritis, and having family members (parents, grandparents) who have had arthritis. OA can be a serious condition, but it is treatable – most people do improve with treatment. Getting a correct diagnosis and working with your doctor to design the best treatment plan is important.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary depending on which joint is affected and usually begin after age 40. The most common symptom is pain and swelling. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain and stiffness after overuse or after periods of rest or prolonged sitting.
  • Limited range of motion or stiffness in movement that gets better after light activity.
  • Pain that is worse after prolonged activity or at the end of the day.
  • Swelling around a joint, such as knuckles or knees.
  • A scraping or grating sensation in knees as bone scrapes against bone due to cartilage wear.

If you don’t move and exercise, the muscles around the affected joint will become weaker and sometimes even smaller in size. In turn, the weak muscles may not be able to support the joint as well. This may contribute to increased joint pain. You also may notice that your coordination, walking and posture become affected.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose osteoarthritis based simply on your medical history and a physical examination. Other tests you may need include:

  • X-rays

    – to look for joint or bone damage, confirm the diagnosis or rule out other causes of pain.

  • Joint aspiration

    – a procedure in which fluid is drained from the affected joints and examined.

Talk to your doctor about treatments for osteoarthritis that may be best for you. A good treatment program can help you decrease joint pain and stiffness, improve joint movement and increase your ability to do everyday activities. Our doctors will help you consider possible side effects and risks associated with each treatment. Our goal is to find the treatment that works best for you, helps you maintain function and decreases the need for surgery when possible.