What is Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis is the general term used whenever there is inflammation present within the joints. Osteoarthritis, specifically, causes a breakdown of joint cartilage. It is the most common form of arthritis and can occur in virtually any joint of the body. It frequently affects those joints that bear the most weight throughout our lives – knees, hips, and spine. However, it can also create damage in the neck, fingers, and thumbs.

Osteoarthritis is unusual in that it does not often occur unless a joint has experienced excessive stress or previous injury. Underlying cartilage disorders can also trigger the condition. Osteoarthritis causes joint cartilage to stiffen and lose elasticity, which ultimately makes it more prone to damage. In time, the cartilage might begin to deteriorate, causing ligaments and tendons to become overworked and creating severe pain. The worst cases may find the bones of the joint actually rubbing against each other.

What are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

The most common complaint of osteoarthritis patients is pain in the affected joint, especially after repeated movement. This discomfort is often worse in the later hours of the day. Some people may also notice:

  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Creaking
  • Stiffness after inactivity
  • Limited motion
  • Joint deformities
  • Limping
  • Joint dysfunction
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Bone spurs

Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Some individuals will have almost no problems despite the loss of cartilage, while others may become incapacitated. It is also not uncommon for patients to go for years between flare-ups.

How is Osteoarthritis Treated?

Treatment for osteoarthritis may include a combination of therapy and self-care. Physical exercise, menthol, weight loss, and ice packs can do a lot to alleviate the pain. If needed, NSAID pain relievers can accomplish the same end. Doctors might also recommend physical therapy, stretching exercises, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy. Some cases may be severe enough to require joint replacement surgery.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
August 15, 2017