What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis in the world and it is commonly referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis and degenerative joint disease. When Osteoarthritis begins to affect one of your joints, a series of reactions take place that actually begin to degrade your once-healthy bone and the “soft tissue” around the joint – tendons and cartilage.

Once the cartilage that normally cushions and protects the bones of the joint breaks down, the bones of your joint eventually rub directly against each other.  Your body reacts to this by creating bone spurs and the joint capsule itself may thicken and weaken.  Inflammation eventually sets in leading to pain.  When it occurs in the lower back, aches and a feeling of stiffness may result.

Doctors talk about two types of Osteoarthritis. Primary Osteoarthritis often refers to “everyday wear” while Secondary Osteoarthritis is considered the result of a maligned joint, being overweight, injury or overuse. *1, *2

Who is affected by Osteoarthritis?

Twenty-one million people are affected by Osteoarthritis in the United States alone. *3 Although this condition can affect anyone at any age, it has been linked to the aging process. More than 50% of all people over 65 show Osteoarthritis symptoms in one or both knees.  By 75, virtually everyone suffers with Osteoarthritis in one or more joints.  In fact, Osteoarthritis of the knee and hips continues to be the most common cause of arthritis-related disability for Americans. The Arthritis Foundation cites that men and women may develop Osteoarthritis at different times in life.  Most people develop symptoms after 45, but, as a group, men under 55 and women over 55 develop Osteoarthritis more frequently.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms & Causes

Although some people who have osteoarthritis say they feel no pain, most people who have it experience pain, feel joint stiffness (especially in the morning), show signs of swelling and tenderness in one or more joints and may even hear a crunching sound in their joints. For some people, Osteoarthritis can become completely debilitating. *3

  • Stiffness or pain in lower back
  • Swelling and tenderness in joints
  • Crunching sound in joints

Among the causes of Osteoarthritis, there have been identified the following two:

  • Normal aging process
  • Previous trauma or fracture

Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

In order to diagnose you properly, your doctor will consider your symptoms and your medical history, examine your joint(s) and order one or more diagnostic tests.  Your doctor may order blood work, X-rays, a CT scan or an MRI to get a clear view of the alignment of your painful joint and its condition.

Osteoarthritis treatment

Your doctor may recommend different treatment options depending on the severity of your osteoarthritis condition and its impact on your joint(s) and your daily life.

Pain Management

Your doctor may prescribe or recommend the use of anti-inflammatory medications (like aspirin or ibuprofen) and cold packs that may help to reduce inflammation as well as the pain associated with osteoarthritis.  Sometimes a local injection of cortisone can be performed to further reduce inflammation, thus reducing the pain.

Lifestyle changes

Your doctor may recommend that you lose weight, take certain nutritional supplements and exercise.  In some cases, physical therapy for osteoarthritis may help provide pain relief and the return of some lost mobility through guided exercise and other techniques.

Bracing and Orthopedic Support Devices

Orthotic devices sometimes help.  Custom-made shoes and shoe inserts provide support for those with Osteoarthritis in the foot or ankle.  Your doctor may recommend a brace or a cane to help take some of the pressure off your affected joint while you walk if osteoarthritis is affecting your knee or hip.

Osteoarthritis surgical options

If you are still experiencing arthritic pain and joint damage that’s affecting your quality of life even after all other conservative measures have been taken, your doctor may suggest surgery to help relieve your pain and restore your mobility.  Your doctor will determine the proper surgical treatment based on the severity of your arthritis and its location.  Today, a full range of surgical solutions exist that enable your doctor to customize surgical procedures to your particular needs and anatomy, whether you need arthroscopic debridement (removing inflamed and/or irritating debris from the joint), arthrodesis (fusing the joint for greater support) or arthroplasty (replacing the arthritic joint).

Be sure to talk with your doctor about the best treatment option for you.  If you need to talk with an osteoarthritis specialist, please contact us at 1-888-409-8006


1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Osteoarthritis: Introduction. Available at:https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoarthritis/DS00019. Accessed February 4, 2008.
2. MedicineNet, Inc. Osteoarthritis. WebMD. Available at:http://www.medicinenet.com/osteoarthritis/page5.htm#minimal. Accessed February 4, 2008.
3. Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis: Who Gets It? Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/disease-center.php?disease_id=32&df=whos_at_risk. Accessed November 5, 2008.