> Skip repeated content

Osteoarthritis Doesn’t Have to Slow You Down

Woman with knee pain

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint condition in the United States, affecting some 27 million people. It can occur in people of all ages but is more common in those over the age of 65.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) develops when the protective covering of cartilage that covers the end of each bone in a joint starts to wear away. Instead of your bones gliding smoothly over each other, this damaged or missing cartilage causes friction. This leads to pain and swelling, and bits of bone and cartilage may chip off and float inside the joint. In its latest stages, osteoarthritis can cause bone to rub directly against bone, causing more pain and joint damage.

Types and Causes of Osteoarthritis

There are two types of OA:

  • Primary OA may be a result of genetics.
  • Secondary OA can result from trauma to the joint area, mechanical misalignment, or a history of childhood hip infection.

According to Danyal Nawabi, MD, HSS sports medicine surgeon, a common example of a trauma that can lead to secondary OA is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in the knee joint in athletic individuals, which can lead to a higher risk  years later.

Additional risk factors for developing OA include age, obesity, overuse of the joint and weak thigh muscles. Increased weight can place additional stress on your joints, which take on more load than they are designed to bear.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Signs that you may have OA include:

  • Pain when you move the joint or stiffness that may be worse at certain times of the day
  • Limited range of motion
  • Clicking or cracking when bending the joint
  • Slight swelling of the joint

Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis

While there is no cure for OA, it can be managed.

Conservative, Nonsurgical Treatment

  • Physical activity: For the active adult engaging in high-impact exercise such as running, Dr. Nawabi suggests switching to low- or non-impact activities such as swimming, bicycling or elliptical training, which will reduce wear and tear on your joints. Walking around the block is also a good way to start, increasing the length of your walks as you build strength and stamina.
  • Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications: These relieve pain and swelling and include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), cortisone and gel injections.
  • Current innovative approaches: Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment, currently used to treat injured muscles and tendons, may also have benefits for people with osteoarthritis and is currently being studied for this purpose. PRP treatment can potentially delay the need for joint replacement surgery. This type of therapy uses one’s own platelets (blood-clotting cells) that are separated from the blood and injected into an injured area.

Surgery for Osteoarthritis

When a person has exhausted all nonsurgical therapies and there is clear evidence of severe OA on x-rays, and when pain and swelling limit activity and impair quality of life, it may be time for joint replacement surgery. Your physician can discuss this option and risks with you.

Join us for upcoming webinars on the topic of arthritis:

  • I Have Arthritis: How Can I Treat It? Thursday, May 28

The Health Video Library is a free service offered to the HSS community where you will find playlists of streaming videos focusing on your unique health needs. Topics cover active and aging adults; bone health; pain and stress management; inflammatory arthritis; osteoarthritis; and your health and wellness.

HSS Education Institute’s Public & Patient Education Department (PPED) offers programming on musculoskeletal conditions and other health and wellness topics for patients and the general public through community lectures, workshops, outreach programs, injury prevention programs, exercise classes, publications and digital programming. 

HSS HealthConnection Fast Facts, produced by the PPED, is a convenient resource designed to provide the public with fast, current and accurate musculoskeletal and general health information.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.