Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time.
Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips and spine.
Symptoms for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis symptoms often develop slowly and worsen over time. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Affected joints might hurt during or after movement.
- Joint stiffness might be most noticeable upon awakening or after being inactive.
- Grating sensation. You might feel a grating sensation when you use the joint, and you might hear popping or crackling.
- This might be caused by soft tissue inflammation around the joint.
Causes for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your joints gradually deteriorates. Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that enables nearly frictionless joint motion. Eventually, if the cartilage wears down completely, bone will rub on bone.
Osteoarthritis has often been referred to as a “wear and tear” disease.
Imaging tests for Osteoarthritis
To get pictures of the affected joint, your doctor might recommend:
- X-rays. Cartilage doesn’t show up on X-ray images, but cartilage loss is revealed by a narrowing of the space between the bones in your joint. An X-ray can also show bone spurs around a joint.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of bone and soft tissues, including cartilage. An MRI isn’t commonly needed to diagnose osteoarthritis but can help provide more information in complex cases.
Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can’t be reversed, but treatments can reduce pain and help you move better.
Medications for Osteoarthritis
Medications that can help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, primarily pain, include:
- Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) has been shown to help some people with osteoarthritis who have mild to moderate pain. Taking more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), taken at the recommended doses, typically relieve osteoarthritis pain. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription.
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta). Normally used as an antidepressant, this medication is also approved to treat chronic pain, including osteoarthritis pain.
Therapy for Osteoarthritis
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can show you exercises to strengthen the muscles around your joint, increase your flexibility and reduce pain. Regular gentle exercise that you do on your own, such as swimming or walking, can be equally effective.
- Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can help you discover ways to do everyday tasks without putting extra stress on your already painful joint. For instance, a toothbrush with a large grip could make brushing your teeth easier if you have osteoarthritis in your hands. A bench in your shower could help relieve the pain of standing if you have knee osteoarthritis.