Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, is one of the most common forms of arthritis, affecting millions around the globe.

It is characterised by the gradual wear and tear of joint cartilage, leading to stiffness, pain, and limited joint movement.

Although osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, it most commonly impacts the knees, hips, lower back, and hands.

The disease progresses gradually and typically affects middle-aged and older individuals.

The management of osteoarthritis is primarily aimed at alleviating symptoms and improving quality of life.

Who is Affected by Osteoarthritis and What Causes it?

Considering the prevalence of osteoarthritis, it is evident that this condition predominantly affects older adults and post-menopausal women. People with osteoarthritis increase due to several risk factors, such as age

- Genetic predisposition

- Joint injury

- Overuse of joints

- Obesity

- Age-related changes in the joints

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Having provided a comprehensive definition of osteoarthritis, attention now shifts to the various factors that precipitate its occurrence. The forthcoming discussion focuses on the critical causes of osteoarthritis, including: - Genetic predisposition - Joint injury - Overuse of joints - Obesity - Age-related changes in the joints This discourse aims to provide an in-depth understanding of how these factors contribute to the development and progression of osteoarthritis.


Some gene variations can affect the way our body makes a protein called collagen, which helps to keep our joints healthy. If something goes wrong with this process, it might lead to weaker joints that are more prone to osteoarthritis.

In other instances, gene variations can also influence how our body responds to joint injuries or inflammation, possibly making it harder for the body to heal itself. This can also increase the risk of getting osteoarthritis.

So while not everyone with these gene variations will get osteoarthritis, it can increase the risk and, combined with other factors, could lead to the onset of the disease.

Joint Injury

A heavy impact or unusual stress on a joint, such as an injury or surgery, can damage the cartilage and surrounding tissues. When these are damaged, it can speed up the natural wear and tear process leading to the erosion of cartilage.

The body usually responds by trying to repair the damage. However, in some cases this repair process can change the structure of the joint, leading to more damage, inflammation, stiffness, pain and eventually osteoarthritis.

So a joint injury can start a chain of events that causes gradual joint degeneration, which is the main characteristic of osteoarthritis.

Overuse of Joints

Overuse of joints can lead to damage of the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones. This cartilage is a slick, sturdy tissue that normally allows your joints to move smoothly.

Too much, or the wrong kind of stress on these joints, like heavy lifting, repetitive motion, or a high-impact injury can damage or wear away this cartilage faster than your body is able to repair it.

It is particularly detrimental to the knees, hips, hands, spine, and big toes, which bear the brunt of constant joint movement.


Obesity increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis, particularly in weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips.

In simple terms, having too much weight on your joints can cause the cushions (cartilage) in them to wear out faster. Obesity also triggers inflammation in the body, and this inflammation can harm the joints and eventually cause osteoarthritis.

Age-Related Changes in the Joints

With advancing age, the joints undergo a series of changes that can contribute significantly to the development of conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Age-related changes in the joints can result in the gradual breakdown of joint cartilage, which can ultimately lead to osteoarthritis.

These conditions can be exacerbated by decreased production of synovial fluid and a reduction in muscle mass and strength, further impacting joint stability and function.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

In many cases, the symptoms of osteoarthritis develop slowly and worsen over time. Here are common symptoms of Osteoarthritis:

  1. Pain: Your joint may hurt during or after movement.
  2. Tenderness: Your joint may feel tender when you apply light pressure to it.
  3. Stiffness: Joint stiffness may be most noticeable when you wake up in the morning or after a period of inactivity.
  4. Loss of flexibility: You may not be able to move your joint through its full range of motion.
  5. Grating sensation: You may hear or feel a grating sensation when you use the joint.
  6. Bone spurs: Extra bits of bone, which feel like hard lumps, may form around the affected joint.
  7. Swelling: This might be caused by soft tissue inflammation around the joint.

Each person's experience with osteoarthritis can differ depending on the severity and which joints are affected. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Pain and Inflammation in Weight-Bearing Joints

Osteoarthritis often precipitates intense pain and inflammation, particularly in weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees, causing significant discomfort and swelling.

This degenerative disease can drastically impact daily activities, as these weight-bearing joints become tender, reducing the range of motion.

Stiffness and Reduced Range of Motion in the Joints

Joint stiffness and a reduced range of motion are other significant symptoms that individuals with degenerative joint diseases often grapple with, further impinging on their daily activities and overall quality of life.

These symptoms, primarily seen in osteoarthritis, can arise due to various causes and risk factors, leading to limitations in the functionality of joints and subsequently, an impaired range of motion.

Crepitus or Grinding Sensation in the Joints

Among the most telling signs of joint degeneration is the manifestation of crepitus, a grinding sensation or noise that can be felt or heard when the joint is moved.

- Crepitus in osteoarthritis is typically characterised by:

- An audible crackling or popping sound during joint motion.

- Potential discomfort or pain accompanying the grinding sensation in the joints.

These symptoms are generally caused by the deterioration of joint cartilage or the presence of bone spurs.

Swelling and Tenderness Around the Affected Joints

In the realm of degenerative joint diseases, swelling and tenderness around the affected areas often emerge as two of the most common and debilitating symptoms, significantly impacting the quality of daily activities for those afflicted.

Osteoarthritis predominantly influences joints such as knees, hips, and hands, causing inflammation that exacerbates these symptoms.

Therefore, proper management and treatment are crucial in reducing swelling and tenderness around the affected joints.

Bone Spurs Forming Around the Affected Joints

A significant characteristic of degenerative joint diseases is the formation of bone spurs around the affected joints, a scenario often encountered in the progression of osteoarthritis.

- Bone spurs, overgrowths of bone, often develop around affected joints.

- These bony projections are common in osteoarthritis and contribute to symptoms.

- Most commonly affected joints include the knee, hip, and spine.

- The presence of bone spurs can severely impair joint movement and function.

an old man with sore fingers

Living with osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can be a long-term chronic condition that can have varying impacts on the daily life of those affected. There are several key points to consider:

  1. Pain Management: Osteoarthritis often manifests as persistent discomfort or pain in the affected joints. This can range from mild, occasional distress to severe, chronic pain that makes daily tasks challenging. Patients often put pain management strategies into place, like over-the-counter or prescription medications, complementary therapies like physiotherapy, or lifestyle changes like exercise or weight management.
  2. Lifestyle Adjustments: Osteoarthritis can limit the range of motion in the affected joints, which may require adaptations in lifestyle. This could mean simpler things like using ergonomic tools or utensils, to more significant changes like installing grab bars in the bathroom or using a wheelchair.
  3. Physical Activity: A balanced regimen of physical activity is crucial. It can help manage weight, maintain joint flexibility, and strengthen the muscles supporting the joints. However, high-impact or strenuous exercises can exacerbate the condition, so activities like swimming, yoga, or cycling are often recommended.
  4. Comfort and Joint Care: It's important for those with osteoarthritis to make sure they are taking care of their joints. This can include using hot or cold packs for pain relief, getting plenty of rest, and using devices such as braces or shoe inserts to reduce strain and improve joint function.
  5. Psychological Impact: Living with chronic pain and the lifestyle adjustments required due to osteoarthritis can take a toll on mental health. Feelings of frustration, anxiety, and depression are not uncommon. Therapeutic support is often beneficial in managing these psychological aspects of the disease.
  6. Dietary Adjustments: Eating a healthy diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help you maintain a healthy weight, which keeps additional strain off your joints. Some studies suggest that certain nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids might help reduce arthritis inflammation.
  7. Regular Medical Care: Regular appointments with a healthcare provider or rheumatologist ensure the disease is being effectively managed and potential complications are addressed promptly.

Every person's experience with osteoarthritis is unique and varies greatly depending on the severity, which joints are affected, and the person's overall health. However, a proactive approach to the disease can significantly improve the quality of life for those living with osteoarthritis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any specific dietary changes that can help manage osteoarthritis?

Certain dietary changes may aid in the management of osteoarthritis symptoms. A balanced diet emphasising lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can potentially reduce inflammation. Particularly, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, may help alleviate symptoms. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight through dietary control can reduce pressure on weight-bearing joints, thereby minimising discomfort. Nevertheless, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before initiating any dietary changes.

Is there a correlation between osteoarthritis and mental health issues like depression or anxiety?

Research indicates a significant correlation between osteoarthritis and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Studies suggest that the chronic pain and impaired mobility associated with osteoarthritis can lead to psychological distress. Furthermore, individuals with osteoarthritis are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety compared to the general population. However, the causal relationship between these conditions is complex and requires further investigation.

What research is currently being conducted to improve treatments or find a cure for osteoarthritis?

Current research to improve treatments or find a cure for osteoarthritis focuses on several areas. Key among these are studies on stem cell therapy and tissue engineering for cartilage repair, development of disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs, and exploration of genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying the disease. Additionally, efforts are directed towards enhancing early detection techniques, which could potentially allow for more effective treatment strategies.

Are there any support groups or communities for people living with osteoarthritis?

Numerous support groups and communities exist for individuals managing osteoarthritis. These groups provide a platform for sharing experiences, seeking advice, and accessing resources related to the condition. They are often found both online, such as the Arthritis Foundation's forums, and offline, via local hospital or community centre programs. The benefits of such groups include emotional support, improved knowledge about the condition, and strategies for symptom management. Participation in these groups can enhance overall well-being.

How can osteoarthritis affect the patient's work or career?

Osteoarthritis, a chronic joint condition, can significantly impact an individual's work or career. The disease's progressive nature can lead to discomfort, pain, stiffness, and reduced joint function, potentially limiting physical capability and endurance. Such limitations may affect productivity, necessitate frequent absences, or require job modifications. Furthermore, the psychological stress of managing a chronic illness may also impact work performance. Therefore, osteoarthritis can have substantial implications on an individual's professional life.

Key Takeaways

  • Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis, affecting the cartilage in joints and causing pain, stiffness, and reduced functionality.
  • Risk factors for osteoarthritis include age, gender, family history, excess weight, joint injury, and occupation.
  • Overuse of joints, particularly through repetitive movements, and obesity increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
  • Proper management and treatment, including non-surgical care, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and regular physical activity, are essential for reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.


Articular cartilage and osteoarthritis. Instructional Course Lectures-American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2005;54:465.

External Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15952258/

Arthritis Foundation: Information about osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis and available treatments, lifestyle tips, and other resources

External Link: http://www.arthritis.org/

A handout for patients with arthritis including information on staying active and a guide to specific exercises is available from: www.arthritis.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ARTHRITIS-NZ-Exercise-Book-Nov-2011-FINAL-WEB.pdf

External Link: http://www.arthritis.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ARTHRITIS-NZ-Exercise-Book-Nov-2011-FINAL-WEB.pdf

This information is intended solely for New Zealand residents and is of a general nature only. No person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided, but at all times should obtain specific advice from a health professional.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter email [#1572] Created with Sketch. Share by Email whatsapp-color Share on WhatsApp
Just added to your wishlist:
My Wishlist
You've just added this product to the cart:
Go to cart page