Osteoarthritis symptoms often develop slowly and worsen over time. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Pain. Affected joints might hurt during or after movement.
- Stiffness. Joint stiffness might be most noticeable upon awakening or after being inactive.
- Tenderness. Your joint might feel tender when you apply light pressure to or near it.
- Loss of flexibility. You might not be able to move your joint through its full range of motion.
- Grating sensation. You might feel a grating sensation when you use the joint, and you might hear popping or crackling.
- Bone spurs. These extra bits of bone, which feel like hard lumps, can form around the affected joint.
- Swelling. This might be caused by soft tissue inflammation around the joint.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your joints gradually deteriorates. Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that enables nearly frictionless joint motion.
Eventually, if the cartilage wears down completely, the bone will rub on the bone.
Osteoarthritis has often been referred to as a wear and tear disease. But besides the breakdown of cartilage, osteoarthritis affects the entire joint. It causes changes in the bone and deterioration of the connective tissues that hold the joint together and attach muscle to bone. It also causes inflammation of the joint lining.
Management and Treatment
How is osteoarthritis treated?
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. Mild to moderate symptoms are usually well managed by a combination of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments. Medical treatments and recommendations include:
- Medications (topical pain medicines and oral analgesics including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, NSAIDs).
- Intermittent hot and cold packs.
- Physical, occupational, and exercise therapy.
- Weight loss (if overweight).
- Healthy eating, managing diabetes and cholesterol.
- Supportive devices such as braces, orthotics, shoe inserts, cane, or walker.
- Intra-articular injection therapies (steroid, hyaluronic acid “gel”).
- Complementary and alternative medicine strategies, including vitamins and supplements.
Surgery may be helpful to relieve pain and restore function when other medical treatments are ineffective or have been exhausted, especially with advanced OA.
The goals of treatment are to:
- Decrease joint pain and stiffness and delay further progression.
- Improve mobility and function.
- Increase patients’ quality of life.
The type of treatment regimen prescribed depends on many factors, including the patient’s age, overall health, activities, occupation, and severity of the condition.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that worsens over time, often resulting in chronic pain. Joint pain and stiffness can become severe enough to make daily tasks difficult.
Depression and sleep disturbances can result from the pain and disability of osteoarthritis.