What Is Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis, Bone & Joint Health, Featured Article, Healthy Aging, Healthy Living, Osteoarthritis
on June 7, 2011
What is Osteoarthritis?
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Osteoarthritis is very common among adults 65 and older, with the risk of significant complications rising with age. According to Osteoarthritis Research Society International, “Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and the major cause of chronic musculoskeletal pain and mobility disability in elderly populations worldwide.” On the bright side, while osteoarthritis cannot be cured, there are many ways it can be treated to relieve symptoms or to slow progression.

Characteristics of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is most commonly characterized by stiffness and joint pain, and without some form of treatment or lifestyle management, the pain can become severe or even crippling. A doctor may recommend exercises, diet changes, or simple changes in the way you move or sit to take the stress off of the most affected joints.

The main cause of osteoarthritis. Most commonly, osteoarthritis is the result of cartilage in the joints wearing down over time. It can be the result of deformities in the cartilage or joint, but such incidences are rare and generally occur at a younger age than typical osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis typically occurs in the hands, knees, hips and other high-stress joints. In more advanced cases, the cartilage may be entirely worn through, and the exposed bones can grind together. Over time, the pain will get worse without any treatment and may necessitate joint replacement surgery.

Risk factors. Osteoarthritis generally occurs in middle-aged adults, though recognizable symptoms may occur earlier if you are also in one of the other high-risk groups. The greatest risk of osteoarthritis is in people who are overweight or obese or who have a job that causes repetitive stress on specific joints. Those who have joint injuries from accidents or recurring joint injuries from high-impact sports may also suffer from osteoarthritis.

Treatment options. Osteoarthritis can be treated to slow progression and minimize pain, but there is no cure. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be recommended to ease the pain of osteoarthritis. In addition, specific exercises, corticosteroids or joint fluid replacement therapy may be used. If all other therapies fail to sufficiently slow progression or ease the associated pain, surgery to replace the worn-out joints will most likely be recommended.