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Osteoarthritis (OA): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Osteoarthritis (OA): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

by Ghania Ahmad · December 20, 2020

Do you often feel that your joints are swollen and painful?

Also known as wear and tear arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common kinds of arthritis.

The joints that are most likely to be affected by osteoarthritis are knee, hip, hand, wrist, neck, lower back, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow and jaw.

If you want to beat Osteoarthritis, then you are at the right place. This guide looks into the meaning, causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of Osteoarthritis.


What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of arthritis and a degenerative joint disease. OA is characterized by breakdown and gradual loss of cartilage in one or more joints.

what is osteoarthritis

The junction between two bones is called joint. A joint is covered with cartilage which is a protein substance and serves as a cushion.

If the cartilage breaks down and is eventually lost, it no longer serves the purpose of cushioning joints.

The joints start to rub against each other. The friction between joints leads to soreness and pain.

Quick Facts About Osteoarthritis:

  • Another name for osteoarthritis is degenerative joint disease
  • OA results from the breakdown of cartilage
  • The main causes of OA are genetics, age and serious injury
  • The frequency of osteoarthritis increases with age
  • Males are more likely to be affected by OA before 45 years of age
  • Frequency of OA in women increases after 55 years of age
  • As compared to men, OA affects women more
  • Osteoarthritis can affect any joint most commonly the joints of knee, hip, hand, wrist, neck, lower back, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow and jaw
  • The main symptoms of OA are painful and swollen joints, joint creaking and loss of mobility
  • No blood test is currently present for OA diagnosis
  • The main goal of OA treatment is the reduction of inflammation and pain in joints. It also aims to improve and maintain joint function.

Learn more about Gout here. 


Osteoarthritis Causes

There are various causes that can contribute toward the development of osteoarthritis.

The most common causes are heredity, obesity, injury, overuse of joints and other diseases.


An inherited defect in genes can be responsible for making cartilage weak. This defected cartilage does not serve the purpose of joint protection. This can result in the deterioration of joints.

People born with defective genes are at a greater risk of developing osteoarthritis.

For example, people born with defective genes may exhibit abnormality in the structure of spine. This may include curvature of spine or scoliosis. Such people are at a greater risk of developing OA of spine.


Obesity increases the chances of osteoarthritis. The joints that are most likely to be affected by obesity include knee, hip and spine.

Regular exercise and a balanced diet can save you from obesity. Maintaining an ideal weight may help in the prevention of osteoarthritis.

If you have developed osteoarthritis, losing excess weight can help reducing the rate of progression.

Serious injury

Having a serious injury increases the risk of developing OA. For example, knee-related injuries are common in athletes. These injuries increase the chances of developing osteoarthritis.

Likewise, people with serious back injuries are more likely to develop OA of spine.

People with a broken bone near any particular joint are also at a greater risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Overuse of joints

The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases if there is an overuse of certain joints.

For example, if you are in a job that requires constant bending of the knee joint, then you are at a greater risk of developing OA of the knee.

Other diseases

If you have rheumatoid arthritis then you are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.

Other than this, certain conditions like excess growth hormone or iron overload can also be the underlying cause of developing OA.

What Are the Other Possible Risk Factors?

People with osteoarthritis face the following possible risk factors for osteoarthritis include:


As you age, the risk of developing osteoarthritis also increases.


Women are at a greater risk of developing OA as compared to men.

Weak Muscles

Your muscles provide support to your joints. Weak muscle means lesser support. This can also increase the chances of osteoarthritis.


Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Once the cartilage weakens, the symptoms of osteoarthritis build up gradually. Initially, you may experience slight pain around the joints.

But there is a set of symptoms that can help you analyze your status of osteoarthritis. Let’s have a look at all the possible symptoms.

OA symptoms

What Are the Possible Signs and Symptoms?

The possible signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

    • Painful joints (specially while performing any activity, after the activity is over or by the end of your day)
    • Stiff joints (specially after you wake up in the morning or after some rest)
    • Limited mobility
    • Cracking or clicking sound around the joint (specially on bending over)
    • Joint injury
    • Swollen joints
    • Weakness of  muscles
    • Unstable joints

Which Joints are Usually Affected?

The weight-bearing joints are most likely to be damaged by osteoarthritis include:

Knee joint

One of the most common types is the osteoarthritis of knee. This joint bears most of your body weight.

It also has to bend over, twist and turn to aid the process of walking. Therefore, this joint is at an increased risk of osteoarthritis.

Hip Joint

Another common type is osteoarthritis of hip. It either affects one or both the hip joints.

Being a ball-and-socket joint, the hip joint has a wide range of movement. This joint also bears a lot of your body weight.

Osteoarthritis of the hip is common in both women and men.

The Joint of Hand and Wrist

The condition known as nodal osteoarthritis is usually the underlying cause of osteoarthritis of hands.

This mostly affects women and it usually starts after the onset of menopause.

It mostly causes damage to the joints at the end of your fingers and base of your thumb.

The Back and Neck

The bones of spine and the discs supporting the spine are at a high risk of damage as a result of osteoarthritis.

Spondylosis can also be the underlying cause of OA of the spine.

Foot and Ankle Joint

Osteoarthritis of foot and ankle is also common. It mostly affects the base of your toe.

Ankle is a comparatively lesser affected part of the foot.

Shoulder Joint

The two joints of shoulder include a ball-and-socket joint and a smaller joint.

Both of these joints can be affected by Osteoarthritis.

The jaw

One of the most frequently used joints of the body is the temporomandibular joint.

Osteoarthritis in the jaw usually starts at an early age as compared to other joints.


Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

A physical examination, lab tests and medical history would help your doctor diagnose osteoarthritis.

During an examination, your doctor will dig into all the signs and symptoms. This will help him reaching the final diagnosis.

OA diagnosis

Your doctor will be the first person with whom you would be talking about your joint problem in detail.

He will probe into the symptoms, medical history and the extent to which pain is affecting your functional life.

For a detailed examination, he will look at your joints and move them as well.

Other than this, there are various tests that help to make a diagnosis for OA.

Diagnostic Tests:

Joint Aspiration

This test starts with numbing the area. After that, a needle is inserted into the joint in order to take out the fluid.

This test detects if there is an infection or crystals present in the fluid.


An X-ray gives a detailed overview of the bone or joint damage.

It can also tell about the changes caused in the bone structures because of osteoarthritis.


MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging is an another technique that can serve the purpose.

It gives a more elaborative view of cartilage and joints.


Osteoarthritis Treatment

Currently, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. But there are several medications and nondrug methods that can ease the pain.

You can also go for joint replacement surgery as a last resort.

OA treatment


Several medications for OA are available in the form of pills, creams, syrups, or injections.

Some of the most commonly used medications include:

  • Analgesics
  • Corticosteroids
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP)
  • Counterirritants
  • Other drugs like duloxetine and pregabalin

The pain relief medications help to relieve pain and other signs and symptoms. However, some of them can have side effects.

Nondrug Therapies

Apart from medication, there are other therapies that can be used.

Some of them include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Losing weight
  • Physical therapies and use of assistive devices
  • Surgery
  • Intake of healthy diet
  • Controlled blood sugar levels
  • Maintain range of motion
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Protect joints
  • Choose a healthy lifestyle

Recommended Diet for Osteoarthritis

Eating healthy has no downside but if you have OA, intake of healthy diet is specially important.

First of all, keeping weight in a normal range reduces pressure on your joints, and helps to improve the function of joints.

Intake of healthy diet can provide a relief from OA symptoms. It also reduces inflammation and swelling.

The most beneficial diet is one having high content of:

  • Vitamin C
  • Beta-carotene
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 fatty acids


Having a healthy lifestyle and intake of balanced diet can keep your joints healthy for a longer time.

The joints of your knee, hip, hand, spine, foot and shoulder keep you mobile. It’s important to take care of them.

You can save yourself from developing osteoarthritis if you follow these simple steps. In case you have osteoarthritis, you can use different treatment options to reduce pain. However, it is important to consult your doctor first.

Ghania Ahmad

I am a Psychology graduate and I run a small home-based setup for children on spectrum. I love making content. In the past, I've worked as a Marketing Communications Manager at Acme Business services. Prior to this, I have also served IGI Life Vitality as a Senior Executive Consultant.

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