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What is Osteoarthritis?

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Osteoarthritis related image Photo: Getty Images

In the United States, about 13.9 percent of adults ages 25 and older and 33.6 percent of adults ages 65 and older have osteoarthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A common joint disorder, osteoarthritis results from wear and tear on the joint.

A patient with osteoarthritis experiences a breakdown of the cartilage around the joint, resulting in pain. Women have osteoarthritis more often than men when they reach their 50s. MedlinePlus pointed out that by age 70, almost everyone experiences symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Several different joints can be affected by osteoarthritis. The prevalence per 100 for women is 9.5 in the hand, 2.7 in the feet, 1.2 in the knee, and 1.4 in the hip, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Besides pain, patients can also experience stiffness. Some patients have morning stiffness, which lasts for about 30 minutes, or gets better with mild activity.

The pain from osteoarthritis is exacerbated by pressure or weight put on the joint. Patients may notice when they move the affected joint, they hear a crackling or grating sound.

To diagnose osteoarthritis, the doctor will perform a physical examination. During the examination, the doctor will listen for a crackling sound — called crepitation — a look for a limited range of motion. Touching the affected joint can help the doctor identify joint swelling, and she may press the joint to detect tenderness.

An X-ray may be ordered, which will show if there is a loss of joint space. Lab work most likely will not be ordered, as MedlinePlus noted that blood tests are not helpful as a diagnostic tool with osteoarthritis.

While no cure exists for osteoarthritis, patients have several different treatment options to manage their symptoms. For medications, patients can use an over-the-counter pain reliever and remedies, or may use prescription medications.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help with the pain and swelling. MedlinePlus noted that over-the-counter remedies, such as chondroitin and glucosamine, can help with pain but do not appear to aid in new cartilage growth.

Other medication options include injections of corticosteroids, capsaicin skin cream and artificial joint fluid. Some patients may benefit from braces, physical therapy and lifestyle changes, such as doing water exercises.

Patients with severe osteoarthritis may require surgery. Options include replacement of the affected joint with an artificial joint, arthroscopic surgery in which the surgeon trims the affected cartilage, surgical fusion of the bones, and changing the bone’s alignment, which removes some stress on the affected joint.


Cleveland Clinic. Osteoarthritis. Web. 21 September 2011

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Osteoarthritis. Web. 21 September 2011

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Osteoarthritis. Web. 21 September 2011

Reviewed September 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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