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Warning:

This site gives you information NOT medical advice. You should consult your medical practitioner if you have any unexplained symptoms of illness or concerns about treatment. Do not stop a prescribed conventional treatment without consulting a doctor. Tell all the practitioners you're working with, conventional or complementary, about any medicines, remedies, herbs or supplements you are taking or considering using.

Osteoarthritis

What do we mean by Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis affects the joints - mainly the knees, hips and small joints of the hands and base of the big toe. But it can involve almost any joint. About 1 million people see their GP about it, and in England and Wales the NHS carries out over 140,000 hip and knee replacements every year.

Osteoarthritis causes mild inflammation around the joints, and changes in the smooth cartilage that covers the parts of the bones that meet in the joints. These strong surfaces allow the joint surfaces to slide easily. Osteoarthritis also causes bony bumps to grow around the edge of joints, making them look knobbly. All this may make a joint stiff and painful to move and sometimes swollen.

Who gets osteoarthritis?

It usually starts in people over 50 and in women more often than men. But younger people can also get osteoarthritis. It's usually set off by an old injury to a joint or by some other type of joint problem. The older you get, the more likely you are to have osteoarthritis, but it isn't inevitable by any means. Even though X-rays of most people over 60 show some of these changes, they may not complain of pain or stiffness. Sometimes a joint can look badly damaged without causing any pain, and sometimes what looks like mild osteoarthritis can be very painful. So the symptoms of osteoarthritis vary from person to person, and from one joint to another.

What causes it?

Ageing is the main cause. Obesity and other causes of extra wear and tear (such as years of poor diet, lack of exercise, and fractures near a joint) are also important factors. The fact that some families seem more prone to it than others suggests there are genetic factors too. Since many women get osteoarthritis after the menopause, hormone deficiencies must play some part as well. But we still don't know why some people with osteoarthritic joints don't get the expected pains or stiffness.

How is it treated?

If osteoarthritis is painful, various treatments can help. Painkillers, physiotherapy and weight loss are the mainstays. In more severe cases, hip joint replacement can be very successful, and knee replacements are becoming more widely available. A lot can be done (apart from prescribing medication) to restore strength and suppleness, function and well-being. Self-care is also very important, and some complementary therapies may be effective.

Here are some useful tips on self-care:

  • Individual self-care strategies should be agreed between you and the healthcare professionals you are consulting.
  • The NICE guidelines recommend: education, advice and access to information, strengthening exercise and aerobic fitness training, weight loss if you are overweight.
  • Get advice from a physiotherapist about the right sort of exercise, weight loss, suitable footwear and activity pacing.
  • Your self-management programmes may be more effective if you join a group facing similar challenges.

For more information on Osteoarthritis see NHS Choices page on Osteoarthritis and for more on self care see Arthritis Care.org.

What other information might be helpful?

  • If the pain is mainly in your back, see the information on BACK PAIN first.
  • If you have general feelings of pain in several places in your body but not in your joints, see the information on SORE MUSCLES.
  • If the pain is causing you problems with sleeping, you may also want to look at the information on SLEEP PROBLEMS.
  • If you are having problems with low mood, try the information on DEPRESSION.
  • If you are feeling generally exhausted as well as in pain, see the information on TIREDNESS AND FATIGUE.