Millions of people worldwide suffer from the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. While there is no cure, there is a wide range of treatments available that can reduce arthritis symptoms and allow you to enjoy a more active life.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage that protects your joints and bones becomes worn. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint in the body. However, it is most common in the hands, spine, hips and knees.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the cartilage between your bones. Cartilage is a firm but slippery tissue that offers cushioning and eliminates friction as joints move. With osteoarthritis, the surface of your cartilage becomes rough. Over time, it can wear down completely to the point where bone rubs against bone.

There are a number of risk factors that make it more likely that someone will develop osteoarthritis:

  • joint injuries. If you have sports or work-related injuries to your joints, you have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis later on.
  • work that involves repetitive stress.
  • obesity. When people carry excess weight, it puts added stress on weight-bearing joints like your knees and hips. Fat tissue also produces proteins that can cause inflammation in and around your joints.
  • bone deformities.
  • genetics. There is a hereditary component to arthritis.

Additionally, women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men. It becomes more likely as you age.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of osteoarthritis develop slowly and get worse over time. These symptoms can include:

  • tenderness.
  • pain.
  • stiffness.
  • a grating sensation in the joint that can be heard or felt.
  • loss of flexibility.
  • bone spurs around the affected joint.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease. Over time, the pain and stiffness may become severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Some people who develop osteoarthritis become unable to work. Your doctor may suggest joint replacement surgery if this occurs.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

An osteoarthritis diagnosis starts with an assessment of your symptoms and your medical history. Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for swelling, redness and tenderness. Imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs can produce more information about the cause of your symptoms. Analysis of your joint fluid can show where there is inflammation and can rule out diagnoses like infection or gout.

Osteoarthritis treatment

At the current time, the underlying process of osteoarthritis cannot be reversed. However, symptoms can be managed through treatment. Lifestyle changes and physical activity can help alleviate symptoms.

Losing weight can significantly improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis and slow its advancement. Weight loss means less pressure put on the area, which can result in less pain and degradation.

Treatments like physical therapy and medication can help alleviate pain and reduce symptoms of stiffness and swelling.

When these conservative treatments are ineffective, treatments that include cortisone injections may help. Your doctor may also suggest surgery to realign bones if osteoarthritis has caused more damage to one side of your knee than the other. In some cases, a complete joint replacement can allow the removal of damaged joint surfaces and replacement with metal and plastic parts.

The longer osteoarthritis is allowed to develop without treatment, the more damage will occur. By addressing issues earlier, you can preserve cartilage and avoid more serious symptoms.