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Osteoarthritis is a type of joint pain due to the wearing down of cartilage that protects the bone. Osteoarthritis can be divided into primary and secondary osteoarthritis. In primary osteoarthritis age and joint use contribute to the progression of the disease. While other conditions such as injury, surgery, obesity, chronic inflammation, gout (painful inflammation of the joints), and diabetes cause secondary osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects tens of millions of people. It is often experienced in the weight bearing joints of the body, and is usually seen after years of constant use. 

Causes and Symptoms

Osteoarthritis is caused by destruction of the cartilage that lines joints of the body. As the cartilage breaks down the bone begins to rub, causing inflammation, pain, and bone changes, leading to what is commonly called osteoarthritis. Many things can cause this destruction of cartilage; there may be a genetic component where people are born with improperly formed joints. Also use and chronic damage of the joints is a major contributor, this can be through, being active, being obese, or suffering injuries to the joints.

Signs of osteoarthritis include chronic pain and stiffness, often described as a sharp ache in the muscles and tendons around the joint. A person suffering from osteoarthritis may also have a grinding feeling as the joint is moved and is caused by bone rubbing against bone. Continual bone rubbing will lead to bone spur formation, or bony protrusions, that stick out from the sides of the affected joint. The pain will worsen with use, so the person will often feel worse at the end of the day than at the beginning. The most commonly involved joints include the knees, hips, and fingers. 


Diagnosis of the disease is made through x-rays and a thorough patient history. The x-ray should show bone spur formation and narrowing in the joint spaces of the affected joints. The disease cannot be cured, though the progression can be slowed with medication and lifestyle changes. It is important for obese patients to lose weight, for diabetics to control their diseases, and for people to continue to exercise. Warming up before exercise with hot packs and cooling down after exercise with ice packs can help prevent pain and inflammation. Also wearing braces to support the joint or using a cane or walker can take much of the strain off of the joints and lessen symptoms. A doctor can also recommend or prescribe a pain-reliever pill or topical cream. In severe cases of joint injury and degeneration joint replacement surgery may be recommended.