Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a painful condition that occurs when cartilage inside a joint is worn down over time. This wear can be caused by an injury to the joint or, more often, from a lifetime of use.
Cartilage is a spongy, soft tissue attached to ends of bones. In the joints where bones meet (such as elbows, knees, shoulders, ankles and knuckles), cartilage cushions the bones, preventing the ends from touching during movement. This allows a person to twist, bend, turn and have a broad range of motion. The older a person gets, the more cartilage deteriorates – especially in joints that we use most frequently. When cartilage degrades, the bones are not properly cushioned, and the joints can become damaged. This results in pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion.
Osteoarthritis is most common in large weight-bearing joints such as a hip or a knee. With this type of arthritis, pain is usually made worse with activity and is better with rest. It is common for symptoms to be at their worst at the end of the day.
Less frequent but often more serious are the inflammatory forms of arthritis, which include conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. These forms usually involve many joints throughout the body at the same time and is caused by a problem with the immune system becoming overactive, resulting in joint inflammation. Arthritis caused by inflammation often results in pain and stiffness after periods of rest or inactivity, particularly in the morning. Swelling, redness, and warmth may be present in the affected joints. Other areas in the body can be affected by the inflammation as well, including the skin and internal organs such as the lungs and heart.
Osteoarthritis is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medications taken orally as a pill or as an injected form, and can also be relieved with physical therapy, exercise, and proper nutrition. Joint replacement surgery is considered when conservative, non-surgical methods have failed to provide adequate benefit. Hip replacement surgery and knee replacement surgery have become trusted treatments for restoring mobility and easing pain.