Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic (long-lasting) joint condition.

A joint is where two bones come together. The ends of these bones are covered with protective tissue called cartilage. With OA, this cartilage breaks down, causing the bones within the joint to rub together. This can cause pain, stiffness, and other symptoms.

OA occurs most often in older people, although it can occur in adults of any age. OA is also called degenerative joint disease, degenerative arthritis, and wear-and-tear arthritis.

A leading cause of disability, OA affects more than 30 million men and womenTrusted Source in the United States. Here’s everything you need to know about OA, from treatment to prevention and more.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease. It occurs when the cartilage between your bones disintegrates. Cartilage cushions your bones from rubbing together. As the cartilage disintegrates, it can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling.

OA most often affects the following joints:

  • knees
  • hips
  • neck
  • lower back
  • toes
  • hands


OA is caused by joint damage. This damage can accumulate over time, which is why age is one of the main causes of the joint damage leading to osteoarthritis. The older you are, the more wear and tear you’ve had on your joints.

Other causes of joint damage include past injury, such as:

  • torn cartilage
  • dislocated joints
  • ligament injuries

They also include joint malformation, obesity, and poor posture. Certain risk factors, such as family history and gender, increase your risk of osteoarthritis. Check out the most common causes of OA.


OA can occur in any joint. However, the most commonly affected areas of the body include the:

  • hands
  • fingertips
  • knees
  • hips
  • spine, typically at the neck or lower back

The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • pain
  • tenderness (discomfort when pressing on the area with your fingers)
  • stiffness
  • inflammation

As OA becomes more advanced, the pain associated with it may become more intense. Over time, swelling in the joint and surrounding area may also occur. Recognizing the early symptoms of OA can help you to better manage the condition.


OA is often a slow-developing disease that can be hard to diagnose until it starts to cause painful or debilitating symptoms. Early OA is often diagnosed after an accident or other incident that causes a fracture requiring an X-ray.

In addition to X-rays, your doctor may use an MRI scan to diagnose OA. This imaging test uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create images of bone and soft tissue.

Other diagnostic tests include a blood test to rule out other conditions that cause joint pain, such as RA. A joint fluid analysis can also be used to determine whether gout or infection is the underlying cause of inflammation. Check out the other tests used to help diagnose osteoarthritis.


OA treatment is centered upon symptom management. The type of treatment that will help you the most will largely be determined by the severity of your symptoms and their location. Often, lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) medication, and home remedies will be enough to provide you with relief from pain, stiffness, and swelling.


You may have risk factors for OA that you can’t control, such as heredity, age, and gender. But other risk factors can be controlled, and managing them can help reduce your risk of OA.

The following tips can help you manage the risk factors under your control:

  • Support your body. If you’re an athlete or an avid exerciser, make sure you care for your body. Wear athletic supports and shoes that reduce impact on your knees. Also make sure to vary your sports, so that all of your muscles get a workout, not just the same muscles every time.
  • Watch your weight. Keep your body mass index (BMI) in the appropriate range for your height and gender.
  • Keep a healthy diet. Eat a range of healthy foods, with a focus on fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Get enough rest. Give your body ample opportunities to rest and to sleep.

If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can also help manage your risk of OA. See how else you can manage your risk and help prevent OA.

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