Condition: Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, causing pain and stiffness in the affected joints.

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What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease (DJD), is the most common type of arthritis, affecting around 8 million people in the UK. The condition typically affects people over the age of 50, but it can affect younger people too, especially if a joint has suffered an injury.

The condition causes the joints to become painful and stiff due to wear and tear of the surrounding cartilage and changes in the underlying bone. Although it can affect any joint in your body, osteoarthritis is most likely to affect weight-bearing joints or very active joints such as those in your hands, knees, hips, lower back and neck.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

In most cases, symptoms of osteoarthritis will develop slowly and get worse over time.

Common signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis to look out for are:

  • Pain in the joint, especially during or after movement

  • Swelling and inflammation around the joint

  • Joint stiffness, which may be more apparent after sleep or inactivity

  • Tenderness, occasionally when light pressure is applied

  • A reduction in your flexibility and range of motion

  • A grating sensation when you move the joint

  • A clicking, popping or crackling sound when the joint bends

  • Boney spurs around the joint, which feel like hard lumps through your skin

  • Muscle weakness around the joint and instability or buckling (e.g. knees giving way)

What causes osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis develops gradually as the cartilage at the ends of the bones in your joints deteriorates due to normal wear and tear. If the cartilage is worn down completely, the bone will start to rub on bone, causing pain, swelling and stiffness when moving the joint.

Exactly what causes osteoarthritis to develop isn’t known, but there are several factors that are thought to increase your risk of developing the condition, including:

  • Age – your risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age

  • Sex – you are more likely to develop osteoarthritis if you’re female

  • Family history – the condition may be hereditary

  • Obesity – excess weight puts additional strain on your joints, especially ones that are weight-bearing such as your knees and hips

  • Joint injury or overuse – damage or repetitive use of a joint from playing sports, or an accident

  • Other joint conditions – having a previous or existing condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

A diagnosis of osteoarthritis can be made based on an assessment of your symptoms and a physical examination.

X-rays may be required to confirm symptoms and joint changes. MRIs may be needed to rule out other bone or joint problems that could be the cause of your symptoms.

What are the treatment options for osteoarthritis?

Although there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, the following may help in reducing your symptoms:

  • Regular exercise – gentle physical activity such as walking, cycling and swimming and range of movement exercises and strengthening exercises

  • Weight management – if you’re carrying excess weight, even losing a small amount can help relieve some of the pressure on your joints

  • Using supportive devices – crutches or walking sticks can help reduce pressure on your weight-bearing joints and aid with balance and stability

  • Medications – topical or oral pain medicines and oral anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce soreness and swelling

  • Applying hot and cold packs – this can help reduce pain and swelling in the joints

  • Physiotherapy – guided physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joints and improve your mobility

  • Injections – steroid injections may be recommended to reduce pain in the joint and/or hyaluronic acid injections may be used to lubricate and absorb shock in the joints

  • Surgery – if other treatments have been ineffective, surgery may be recommended to help decrease pain and stiffness, delay progression, improve mobility and function and improve your quality of life. Surgery may be in the form of a joint replacement, joint fusion or arthroscopy (keyhole surgery to clean out and treat a joint

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Osteoarthritis Specialists

We boast a truly integrated team of orthopaedic surgeons, sports medicine physicians, podiatric surgeons, rheumatology specialists, paid medicine consultants and hand therapy specialists. All of these services work together in one place, enabling us to give patients the best care possible.