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Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects many of us as we get older and develops as wear and tear happens to cartilage in the joints, causing pain, weakness and stiffness.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis – also known as degenerative joint disease – is the most common form of arthritis. It develops over time, as wear and tear happens to cartilage, so it gets worn and eventually worn away completely. Without the cushioning effect of cartilage, your bones painfully grate against each other.

Osteoarthritis most commonly affects knees, hips, and small hand joints. It often starts in people over 50-year-old but can affect younger people.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

The severity of osteoarthritis symptoms vary from person to person, and between different affected joints.

Common symptoms associated with osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain – this can become worse when you move your joint or bear weight
  • Swelling – hard or soft swelling of the affected joint
  • Stiffness – your joints may feel still especially after
  • Reduced range of movement
  • Weak muscles
  • Joint deformity or instability
  • Inability to carry out everyday tasks such as walking

What causes osteoarthritis?

Several factors may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis, including:

  • Increased age – your joints wear down naturally over time, after years of use
  • Being overweight – puts extra strain on your joints, especially those that bear most of your weight, such as knees and hips
  • Being inactive – reduced movement can impact joints
  • Previous injury or trauma – overusing your joint when it has not healed properly after an injury or operation
  • Other conditions – rheumatoid arthritis, gout or pseudogout can cause the cartilage to wear away, developing arthritis
  • Being a woman – osteoarthritis is more common in women than men
  • Family history- Osteoarthritis seems to run in families, suggesting a genetic susceptibility.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

To diagnose osteoarthritis, your doctor will conduct a full medical assessment, including asking you questions, examining your joints and by carrying out X-rays.

They will assess your joint for tenderness, creaking or grating sounds (crepitus), excess joint fluid, problems in movement, joint instability and muscle weakness.

On the X-rays, your radiologist will look for bony spurs, narrowing spaces between the bones, and bone hardening.

How is osteoarthritis treated?

In most cases of osteoarthritis, your doctor will recommend some (or all) of the following:

  • Physiotherapy (you meet with your physiotherapist to learn some gentle movement exercises, and can then continue with these on your own at home to strengthen your joint)
  • Pain relief
  • Activity modification
  • Weight management and exercise including swimming and cycling
  • Steroid injections may be used to help relieve symptoms

If the above treatments don’t adequately control symptoms, and there is poor mobility and quality of life, joint replacement surgery may be recommended for worn knees, hips, ankles, and shoulders.  Here, the worn joint is replaced with an artificial joint to restore mobility and relieve pain. In some instances fusion surgery is advised.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Sean Curry  ›

Mr Sean Curry is a Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon specialising in knee and hip problems as well as treating a variety of fractures.

Find your specialist in osteoarthritis at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have osteoarthritis and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading orthopaedic and rheumatology specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Professor Charles Mackworth-Young  ›
Special interests include:
Inflammatory arthritis (+ 3) more
Mr Tim Sinnett  ›
Special interests include:
Foot surgery (+ 13) more
Mr Lloyd (Robert) Williams  ›
Special interests include:
Foot surgery (+ 10) more
Mr Sean Curry  ›
Special interests include:
Hip surgery (+ 3) more
Mr Mark Webb  ›
Special interests include:
Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (+ 10) more
Mr Jamie Griffiths  ›
Special interests include:
Osteoarthritis (+ 11) more

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