A strong, rubber-like tissue called cartilage protects the joints of our bodies. It absorbs stress to joints during movement. If that cartilage begins to break down, you may experience pain and stiffness in a joint. This condition is called osteoarthritis. It is also known as degenerative arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people. It should not be confused with osteoporosis, which is medical condition that affects the bones in the body. The most commonly affected joints include the neck, knees, hips, lower back, and fingers. Osteoarthritis affects people differently. In some people, it is relatively mild. In others, osteoarthritis can cause significant pain.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis will vary, depending on which joints are affected. Common symptoms may include:
- Limited range of motion or stiffness
- Clicking or cracking sounds when a joint bends
- Bony growths at the end of joints
You should call your healthcare provider if you have pain, stiffness, or other symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis has no specific cause. Several factors may lead to the development of osteoarthritis including:
- Overuse or repetitive movements
- Rheumatoid arthritis
To diagnose osteoarthritis, your healthcare provider will first review your medical history and perform a physical exam. He or she may order tests including:
- Blood tests
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
You may also have a procedure called joint aspiration. During this procedure, your doctor will insert a needle into the joint to withdraw fluid. The fluid will be examined for evidence of joint deterioration.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. There are treatments available to help you manage your symptoms. These treatments include:
- Regular exercise
- Weight management
- Pain and anti-inflammatory medicines
- Injections to reduce inflammation and pain
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Joint surgery or joint replacement
As you get older, the cartilage in your joints will naturally break down. It is part of the aging process. While you can’t prevent this process, there are things you can do slow the progression.
- Exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day)
- Avoid injury to your joints
- Maintain a healthy weight