Cartilage is smooth tissue that covers the bone in a joint. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a gradual wearing down of cartilage. It can cause pain and limit movement.
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Cartilage is smooth tissue that covers the areas of bone that make up a joint. It provides a cushion for the bones and helps the joint work smoothly. Over time the impact, stress, and pressure on the joint can wear down the cartilage. The damage worsens over time. The cartilage may completely wear away and the bare bones rub together. Bone on bone friction causes pain and inflammation.
The wear and tear of the joint is a part of aging. However, it can be made worse. Injuries to the joint, weak muscles, or other medical conditions all add to and speed up the damage.
OA is more common in older adults. Other factors that may increase your chance of OA include:
OA is most common in larger joints that support weight such as the spine, hips, and knees. It is also common in active joints like the hand and feet. Common symptoms include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor can often diagnose OA based on your symptoms.
Other tests are not always needed. The doctor may do more tests if your symptoms are not typical. The tests can help to rule out other issues like new injury. Test options may include:
OA cannot be cured. Treatment is focused on:
Options may include:
Losing weight can lessen the stress on joints. The closer you are to your ideal weight, the greater the benefit. A dietitian can help with meal planning.
Muscles affect the alignment of the joint, how they move, and how much stress is placed on them. The stronger the muscles the less wear and tear happens with each movement. This can help slow progression of OA.
Strengthening the muscles that support the joint may also decrease OA pain and improve movement. Low impact options may help. For example, swimming and water aerobics improve muscle health with less impact on the joints. The doctor or an exercise specialist can help to create a program.
OA can make everyday tasks difficult. Physical or occupational therapy can provide new steps or devices to help you such as:
Other therapy options include:
Medications may help to manage pain or swelling. Options include:
Heat may help loosen stiff joints and improve movement. Hot water bottles, warm soaks, paraffin, or heating pads may help.
Ice may help decrease swelling and pain. It may be most useful after activity.
Alternative therapies may give some relief. It is best when used in combination with treatments above. It is important to work with your doctor to make sure all your efforts work together. Alternative options that have shown some promise with OA include:
Surgery may be needed for joints that are causing severe limits. It may be done to:
To reduce your chance of OA:
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Last reviewed September 2017 by Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 12/29/2017