Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common joint disease that most often affects middle age to elderly people. It is commonly referred to as "wear and tear" arthritis, but OA is a disease of the entire joint, involving the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and bone. OA affects people of all races and both sexes. Most often, it occurs in patients age 40 and above. OA is a top cause of disability in older people. There is no cure for the disease, but some treatments may slow disease progression.

What Are the Signs/Symptoms?

Joint pain is the most common sign of OA. Your joints may feel stiff and painful after a lot of activity, or at the end of the day. Usually, OA does not cause morning joint stiffness.

OA tends to affect commonly used joints such as those of the fingers and spine, and the weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. Symptoms include: joint pain and stiffness, knobby swelling at the joint, and cracking or grinding noise with joint movement.

Other diseases that cause joint pain may be mistaken for OA. It is important to get the correct diagnosis without unnecessary testing. A rheumatologist can diagnose OA and prescribe a treatment plan that is best for you.

What Are Common Treatments?

The goal of osteoarthritis treatment is to reduce pain and improve function.

Exercise can improve your muscle strength, decrease joint pain and stiffness, and lower the chance of disability due to OA. Weight loss can also help; for every 10 pounds of weight you lose over 10 years, you can reduce the chance of developing knee OA by up to 50 percent.

Drug therapies include oral pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (often called NSAIDs), which decrease swelling and pain.

Cymbalta is also sometimes prescribed to reduce pain, and patients with more serious pain may need stronger medications, such as prescription narcotics.

Joint injections with corticosteroids (sometimes called cortisone shots) or with a form of lubricant called hyaluronic acid can give months of pain relief from OA.

Surgical treatment becomes an option for severe cases.

Living with Osteoarthritis

There is no cure for OA, but you can manage how it affects your quality of life. Some tips include:

  • Properly position and support your neck and back while sitting or sleeping.
  • Adjust furniture, such as raising a chair or toilet seat.
  • Avoid repeated motions of the joint.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese, which can reduce pain and slow progression of OA.
  • Exercise each day.
  • Use adaptive devices that will help you do daily activities.

You can also work with a physical therapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT) to learn safe exercises or movements, and to properly use assistive devices for your OA.

Updated February 2023 by Cheryl Crow, MOT, OTR/L, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology.

This information is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or health condition.

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