Osteoarthritis: Causes, Symptoms and Management


Osteoarthritis is a prevalent disabling disorder of the joints that affects million of people all over the world. It is the most common cause of disability and has a multifaceted set of causes. It affects both load bearing and non-load bearing joints.

The knee joint is most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. The other affected sites are hands, hips and the spine. It is also known as degenerative arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition which occurs gradually and worsens over time. More common in people over the age of 45 and the probability increases with the increasing age. Women are prone to osteoarthritis than men.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the progressive loss of articular cartilage and remodelling of the underlying bone. For a long time osteoarthritis was associated with wear and tear of the joints but the recent studies revealed that it involves degradation of cartilage. Osteoarthritis is of two types:

  • Primary
  • Secondary

The factors which contribute to the development of osteoarthritis are:

  1. Genetic Traits- They can make a person more vulnerable towards osteoarthritis. Genetic traits are considered to be the developmental anomaly which affects the collagen production or bone structure.
  2. Weight- Body weight acts as a major contributing factor. Being overweight puts additional pressure on the joints especially the hip and knee joints and causes the breakdown of the cartilage in the joints.
  3. Injury- A long term or any other injury and overuse-repetitive movements can cause injury to the joints such as ligament tear, fracture or surgery. Such injuries can further lead to osteoarthritis. Athletes and people involved in heavy physical work are at a much higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.
  4. Bone Disorders- People with bone problems or weaker bones are also prone to osteoarthritis
  5. Metabolic Disorders- Several metabolic disorders like hemochromatosis or acromegaly can also pose threats towards developing osteoarthritis
  6. Joint Disorders- A lot of people suffer from several joint disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. Such people are at a much higher risk of osteoarthritis
  7. Family History- Anyone with previous family history are more susceptible to develop this health problem

Osteoarthritis causes

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

It is always necessary to understand various symptoms related with health condition for proper identification of the condition. Similarly several symptoms are associated with osteoarthritis which needs proper medical attention. Some of these symptoms are:

  1. Pain and tenderness in the affected joint. There may be stiffness and limitation of the range of motion
  2. Clicking or cracking sound is heard with the movement of the joint
  3. Swelling around the joint
  4. Pain worsens after activity and towards the end of the day
  5. Inflexibility
  6. There may be a sensation of grating or creaking while moving the joint
  7. Bone spurs can be felt under the skin with the progression of the disease
  8. Deformity in the affected joint

Osteoarthritis affects different parts of the body in different ways like:

  1. Hips- Pain is felt in the groin area or buttocks or on the inside of the thigh or knee
  2. Knees- Discomfort, pain, grating sensation and swelling is experienced
  3. Fingers- Bony outgrowths called spurs are found at the edge of the joints These cause the fingers to become swollen, red and painful
  4. Feet- Swelling in the ankles or toes. Pain and tenderness at the base of the big toe.

The pain and swelling or limited movements make it difficult to perform ordinary day to day tasks. When the lower body is affected; simple activities like walking and climbing stairs may seem impossible.

When fingers are affected various everyday tasks like opening boxes or writing becomes a challenge. Knee and hip pain can lead to sedentary lifestyle which in turn causes various health problems. It can lead to obesity and weight gain which may lead to systemic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

People having Osteoarthritis experience a greater risk for falls and fractures. Muscle weakness and impaired balance are also experienced. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that worsens over time often resulting in chronic pain. Depression and sleep disturbances may also occur due to the health problem.

Diagnosis Of Osteoarthritis

The correct diagnosis of osteoarthritis includes:

  1. Health history and proper study of symptoms which helps in identifying osteoarthritis in an individual
  2. Clinical examination by the doctor is very important
  3. Diagnostic tests like joint aspiration, X-ray and MRI
  4. Several blood tests are also recommended

Osteoarthritis treatment

Treatment Of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease which has no definitive cure but treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms. The management of osteoarthritis include:

  • Medication: Management of pain, swelling and tenderness- pain and anti-inflammatory medicines are used. They are available in oral and topical forms.
  • Physical and occupational therapy: It involves exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint, increase flexibility and reduce pain. Occupational therapy helps in performing everyday tasks without putting extra pressure on the painful joints.
  • Assistive devices- These include walkers, canes, shoe orthotics, knee braces and steering wheel grips. They help with everyday function and mobility.
  • Surgery- Joint replacement surgery for the damaged joints especially knee or hip joints.
  • Natural or alternative treatment- These include nutritional supplements, acupuncture, acupressure, hydrotherapy and massage.