What is osteoarthritis?Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage in one or more joints in the body. Cartilage serves as a "shock absorber" between the bones in the joints. Another name for Osteoarthritis is “degenerative arthritis”. Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis becomes more frequently as people age. Before the age of 45, osteoarthritis occurs more frequently in males than females and after the age of 55, it occurs more frequently in females. The progression of osteoarthritis is slow, occurring over several years or decades.
Osteoarthritis most commonly affects weight bearing joints e.g. hips and knees but can also affect the hands, feet, spine.
Most cases of osteoarthritis have no known cause, and these cases are referred to as Primary osteoarthritis, but when the cause of the osteoarthritis is known e.g. trauma, the condition is referred to as Secondary.
Pain is usually the initial symptom in osteoarthritis, with deep, achy joint pain exacerbated by extensive use. Also, reduced range of motion and crepitus are frequently present. Stiffness during rest may develop, with morning joint stiffness usually lasting for less than 30 minutes.
Initially, pain can be relieved by rest and may respond to simple analgesics. However, joints may become unstable as the osteoarthritis progresses; therefore, the pain may become more prominent (even during rest) and may not respond to medications.
What causes osteoarthritis?Primary osteoarthritis is most of the time related to aging processes. Aging decreases the water content of the cartilage and the cartilage begins to degenerate. In progressed cases, there is a total loss of cartilage between the bones in the joints. Repetitive use of the worn joints can irritate and inflame the cartilage, causing pain and swellings. Loss of the cartilage results in increased friction between the bones in the joints. This leads to pain and limitation of joint mobility. Inflammation of the cartilage can also stimulate new bone growths such as spurs to form around the joints.
Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by conditions such as obesity, repeated trauma or surgery in the joint, abnormal joints at birth (congenital abnormalities), diabetes and other hormone disorders.
Obesity causes osteoarthritis by increasing the mechanical stress on the cartilage. Obesity, next to aging, is the biggest risk factor for osteoarthritis in the knees and hips. Repeated trauma to joint tissue (e.g. ligaments, bones, and cartilage) is believed to lead to early osteoarthritis in the knees.
Some people are born with abnormally formed joints (congenital abnormalities). These people are especially vulnerable to mechanical wear, causing early degeneration and loss of cartilage in the affected joint.
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