Osteoarthritis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Prevention
Health Education


Dr.Gurinder Singh Mann profile Authored by Dr.Gurinder Singh Mann on 9 Sep 2014 - 10:56.


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis affecting the joints in the body, especially the joints of the neck, hands, hips, back and the knees. It is also called wear-and-tear arthritis as it is characterized by progressive damage to the cartilages of the bones causing pain and stiffness. It often worsens with time, but appropriate measures and treatments can help to slow down the progression. Although anybody can be a victim of osteoarthritis, it is quite common in women as they age.

Types of Osteoarthritis:

  • Hip Osteoarthritis: Characterized by inability to walk properly.
  • Foot and ankle osteoarthritis: There are many bones (28) and joints (30) in the foot, which get affected and disturb the normal movement.
  • Osteoarthritis of the Knee: Wearing down of the knee joints.
  • Hand osteoarthritis: Joints in the hand get affected.
  • Spinal osteoarthritis: It isthe breakdown of the cartilage of the joints and discs along the length of the spinal cord.
  • Shoulder osteoarthritis: It may also affect young people if met with any serious injury of the shoulder.
  • Cervical osteoarthritis: It affects the bones, discs, and joints of the neck.

Osteoarthritis is caused when the cartilage, which protects the bone in the joint - progressively deteriorates with increasing age. Cartilage is made up of a slippery tissue that enables the bone joints to move smoothly without rigorous friction. In osteoarthritis, these slippery tissues get damaged over time, causing direct rubbing of the joints which eventually causes pain, stiffness and tenderness.

Symptoms of the osteoarthritis are often noticed after a span of time and worsen over time. Common symptoms may include:

  • Pain during the movement of the joint
  • Tenderness on applying pressure to the joints
  • Stiffness in the joints, especially in the early morning
  • Restricted movement of the joints
  • Grating sensation in the joints
  • Formation of hard lumps around the affected joint

A diagnosis of osteoporosis may involve physical examination, laboratory tests and certain imaging tests.

Physical examination: To check for the Inflammation or swelling, stiffness and range of mobility.

Imaging tests: The imaging modalities that can be implemented may include X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Laboratory tests: These may include blood examinations and the examination of synovial fluid (fluid in the joint that is responsible for lubrication of joints).

  • Blood examinations: To rule out the probable causes of the joint pain, swelling and other than the osteoarthritis. Eg.Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Joint fluid examination: To trace out the presence of inflammation and other underlying causes such as gout or some infection.

Several factors may increase the risk of getting the osteoarthritis. These may include:

  • Increasing age
  • Being women
  • Being born with defective bone joints and cartilage
  • An injury that has affected joint or trauma
  • Being overweight
  • Occupation involving tasks that may put consistent pressure on particular joint
  • Certain underlying diseases, including diabetes, gout and Paget’s disease of bone.

Although, there is no assured approach to cure osteoarthritis permanently, several treatment measures can help to reduce the prominent symptoms such as immobility, swelling or inflammation, tenderness and pain. Some commonly practiced treatment measures may include, drugs and medications, surgery to replace joint/s, different therapies, lifestyle modifications and alternative medicine approaches.

Drugs and medications: Following medications may be prescribed:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – to reduce pain and swelling or inflammation.
  • Acetaminophen – to relieve mild to moderate pain. (Note: Take all the medications in an accurate dose as prescribed).
  • Narcotics – In the case of severe osteoarthritis pain, doctor may prescribe narcotics similar to codeine, which have properties to relieve pain.

(Note: Take all the medications in accurate dosage as prescribed).

Different therapies: A clinical approach accompanied by different therapies is often effective. Following therapies may be applied:

  • Physiotherapy: it may be practiced with the help of trained professionals to improve the range of movement by strengthening the muscles and joints. 
  • Occupational therapy: It is an approach to discover and use as a supportive measure to avoid stress on the affected joint. These may include various devices or accessories.
  • Support materials: These may include using shoe inserts or splints to reduce the osteoarthritis pain.
  • Training to cope with severe pain – Several medical centers may have sessions to teach the ways to cope up with the symptoms, especially chronic pain.

Surgery and procedures: When other approaches do not suffice or fails to give better results, the doctor may suggest you to opt for surgical interventions. These may include:

Arthroplasty: A surgery to replace the diseased joint/s by artificial materials (prostheses), which can be made up of either metal or plastic. 

Osteotomy: A surgery to realign the so that the body weight can be shifted away from the worn-out part of the diseased joint, especially the knee. Thus, it ultimately reduces the pain.

Other non-surgical procedures may include:

  • Corticosteroid injections: Injecting corticosteroid medications into the diseased joints is reported to relive the pain. However, limited shots are recommended as extra injections may further damage the joints.
  • Shots of hyaluronic acid derivatives: These are lubrication injections, which may be injected into the joints to protect the joints and relieve pain.

Lifestyle recommendations:

Several lifestyle modifications and home remedies can offer better outcomes in terms of reduced symptoms of osteoarthritis. Following are the recommendations:

  • Take plenty of rest, at least for a day if there is an inflammation and consistent pain
  • Practice mild exercise regularly, including brisk walking, gardening, swimming and cycling
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Apply heat or ice to the joints to relieve tenderness, inflammation and pain
  • Use pain killers such as creams and gels which are available over the counter
  • Use supporting devices to shift the pressure from diseased joints

Alternative medicine:

These may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Yogaasanas and Tai chi to improve the mobility


Poorly managed osteoarthritis or if kept untreated for a long time, may eventually contribute to certain complications. Also, it becomes severe over time and may affect many joints in the body. These may include:

  • Interrupting daily activities due to severe pain, immobility and stiffness.
  • Tennis Elbow – Outer part of the elbow becomes sore and tender.
  • Trigger Finger – It is characterized by immobility and severe pain in the affected finger.
  • Impingement Syndrome – It is characterized by immobility, severe pain and inflammation of the shoulder joints.
  • deQuervain's Disease – Causes painful swelling affecting thumb.
  • Scoliosis and Arthritis – It's common in children and affects the spine.

There is no measure which can assure the prevention of osteoarthritis. However, certain healthy habits may help. These may include:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a good physic
  • Avoid consistent pressure on particular joints.
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.