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Osteoarthritis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, and More

Osteoarthritis affects millions of people around the globe (20 million people in the U.S. alone).

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. It is the most common form of arthritis that can affect any joint tissue in the body. However, it is most common to occur in the knees, hands, feet, spine, and hips. It only affects the joints, and it does not contribute to any organ damage. Protective cartilage surrounds and cushions joints but over time, they can wear down, causing pain and irritation. Cartilage is the tissue at the end of the bones that protects and cushions all the joints in the body. Bones may end up rubbing up against each other when the cartilage starts to wear down. At first, the process starts gradually but then gets worse as time goes on.

This disease is also called degenerative or wear and tear arthritis for the reasons mentioned above. The reason why the knees, hips, spine, and feet are most affected is that they hold the most weight. Osteoarthritis in the hands is usually caused by an infection, inflammation, or a traumatic injury. Obesity and osteoarthritis are highly connected as well. The more pressure that is put on weight-bearing joints, the more joint cartilage wears down. Weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight may not only prevent osteoarthritis, but it may even be a helpful treatment option to reduce pain, inflammation, and cartilage damage. (1)

Stages of Osteoarthritis

There are four stages of osteoarthritis, including minor, mild, moderate, and severe, in that order.

  • Minor osteoarthritis: There is little wear and tear in the joints affected, but not much pain if any.
  • Mild osteoarthritis: Bone spurs can start to occur and become noticeable.
  • Moderate osteoarthritis: Protective cartilage starts to weaken.
  • Severe osteoarthritis: There is a lot of pain from cartilage erosion. (2)

There is only a slight difference between osteoarthritis and arthritis. Osteoarthritis refers to a wearing down of the joints over time, mostly with age. When referring to arthritis, it can occur at any time, and it is not from normal wear and tear on the joints with age. Putting too much stress on a joint that already underwent a previous injury can exacerbate osteoarthritis as well. (3)

Osteoarthritis is an extremely common condition, affecting over 27 million adults over the age of 25. Knee pain from this condition is widely recognized, although it can affect other joints as well. It is also a costly disease that requires more research to help prevent the large economic burden on many. (4)

Both men and women are equally affected by osteoarthritis, and it occurs mainly around the ages of 45 and up. However, after age 45, osteoarthritis is more common in women than men. Osteoarthritis can show up in many different parts of the body, and it is different for everyone. There are varying levels of symptoms within each body part as well.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

There are several symptoms of this growing disease, and some vary by what joints are affected. The most common symptoms range from mild to severe pain, along with stiffness in the joints. Other symptoms that can occur include swelling, tenderness, trouble getting out of bed, experiencing a crunching sound, or feeling a type of bone-on-bone sound when moving.

Knee Symptoms and Facts

The knees are the most commonly affected areas of osteoarthritis pain and discomfort. The knees are the joints where the most mobility is done, so having pain in this joint may affect the ability to walk, run, climb, bathe, sit, and it can even lead to disability. Those who suffer from knee osteoarthritis typically experience swelling, pain, and stiffness. This is commonly experienced in women and men over 65 years old.

There are two different types of knee osteoarthritis, called primary and secondary. Secondary usually occurs when there was some type of trauma on the knee, such as Rheumatoid arthritis, while primary happens with normal wear and tear. Over time, the progression of pain typically gets worse, but levels of pain vary with each individual and their unique case. Some may experience pain or discomfort from resting or sitting for long periods. (5)

Spine Symptoms and Facts

Osteoarthritis in the spine can show up in a few different ways. It may show up as pain, tingling, weakness, or discomfort in the lower back or neck, due to excess pressure on the nerves in the spine. The bladder and bowels may even be affected in more serious cases. Experiencing this disease in the spine often creates a restriction of mobility. When the processor spine osteoarthritis occurs, there is a breakdown on not only the cartilage in the joints but of the discs in the neck and lower back.

Did you know that 80 percent of Americans have had low back pain episodes in their lifetime? Plus, chronic low back pain brought on by spine osteoarthritis is the most common reason for hospital or doctor visits. The location of the pain depends on the area of the spine affected. While some may experience shoulder and neck pain, others may experience bladder issues from mid to lower spine osteoarthritis. That is because it can also produce spurs that put pressure on the spinal column. Patients may also experience chest pain, numbness, or tingling from spine osteoarthritis. (6)

Sometimes, other treatments can help spine osteoarthritides such as spinal manipulation from a chiropractor, massage, and much more. Read below to learn about other treatment methods for the spine and all types of osteoarthritis.

Hand and Feet Symptoms and Facts

Osteoarthritis in the hands is commonly caused by a genetic risk factor, and it is much more common in women. After menopause is the most common time for women to develop hand osteoarthritis. (7) Hands may become numb or stiff, and small boney knobs may often appear as well. These knobs are known as Heberden’s nodes or Bouchard’s nodes when they appear on the middle finger joints.

The most common area of the hands that osteoarthritis affects ranges from the ends of the fingers to the base and ends of the thumbs. The thumb joint can also be greatly affected by hand osteoarthritis, and the hands typically become enlarged as well.

For foot osteoarthritis, symptoms may include stiffness, limited mobility, and range of motion, difficulty walking, bone spurs, swelling in the affected foot, and pain around the ankle, midfoot, or the great toe (the first joint.) Those with flat feet or high arches are more likely to experience foot and even knee osteoarthritis. (8)

Hip Symptoms and Facts

The hips are second to knees in the most common area of osteoarthritis. Symptoms are similar in that many experience joint pain or stiffness near the site. However, when the hip is affected, the pain and stiffness can radiate outwards, causing possible discomfort in the buttocks, knees, thigh, or even the groin.

Any movement or bending can make basic tasks such as getting dressed very difficult for someone with this type of osteoarthritis. One independent clause that could explain some cases of hip osteoarthritis is an issue at birth. Sometimes a baby can get a condition called developmental dysplasia of the hip, which can lead to improper formation of the hip joint.

When this disease starts in the hip, pain may often get much worse with any movement, especially anything too rigorous. Some may also experience a sticking or locking of the joint, along with a grinding noise when moving. This happens because loose fragments of the cartilage coincide with the normal hip motion. (9)

Risk Factors/Causes of Osteoarthritis

There are a few different risk factors or causes of osteoarthritis. They can range from environmental concerns to physical limitations, lifestyle behaviors, and more. Age is the most common culprit when examining osteoarthritis, as any type tends to get worse with age. That is especially true if any pain, discomfort, immobility, or stiffness is ignored as well.

The most common risk factors include:

  • Age (Gets worse with increased age, especially over 65)
  • Genetics or family history (This is especially true for hand osteoarthritis in women)
  • Obesity (Extra pressure on joints can make this disease worse or even start it)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Past injury or abnormality to a particular joint
  • Overuse of a joint (most commonly due to a frequent lifestyle habit or strenuous exercise routine)
  • Occupation (Some jobs that require manual labor may affect chances of developing this disease)

Many times, people don’t know they have osteoarthritis until they experience an injury like a bone fracture. There are many risk factors or causes of osteoarthritis, and they can vary greatly per person and diagnosis. Age is one of the single most important variables when it comes to assessing osteoarthritis in any of the joints it can affect throughout the body. Lifestyle modifications are extremely important to help prevent this joint disease from occurring. Maintaining a healthy weight, lifestyle, and diet are just a few simple things you can do to help prevent this common condition. Read more below about what you can do to prevent and manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis with treatments, protocols, techniques, and much more.

Diagnosis for Osteoarthritis

The main way to diagnose osteoarthritis is by ordering x-rays, getting an MRI, and/or going through a regular physical examination of the joints. Sometimes, a doctor will order blood tests as well, to help rule out any other type of arthritis, such as Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common to develop at any age, unlike osteoarthritis.

After going through a physical examination as well as a family and medical history, a physician can start to make an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis

Treatment is essential early on if you suspect you may have any type of osteoarthritis. The sooner treatment starts, the better the chances are of it not affecting your everyday life as much. The diagnosis of this disease can be done in a few different ways.

Treatment options may range and vary per person, severity level, and diagnosis as well. If you are experiencing any symptoms of osteoarthritis, be sure to reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the quicker treatments can happen.

One of the biggest treatment options for osteoarthritis help with weight loss and/or weight control for the long term. Many Americans suffer from obesity, and as a result, that can cause damage to the joints. Getting your weight to a healthy number and maintaining it may be a powerful gamechanger for those in pain from osteoarthritis. It may also be an essential preventive measure for this disease. It can help relieve symptoms, improve quality of life, and even improve function and mobility. It is an effective option for reducing the disease in women. (10) (11)

Exercise and rest are a few other common treatment protocols. That is because finding an exercise regimen that is not too strenuous on joints and knowing when to rest is crucial in the management of this disease. Many doctors may emphasize the importance of low-impact exercise such as swimming, bicycling, rowing, and walking. Exercise is important for disease management, especially when it concerns the joints. That is because it increases the lubrication of the cartilage of the joint. (12)

Other treatment options include arthritis medications, surgery, complementary or alternative treatments, a healthy diet, physical or occupational therapy, spinal manipulation from a chiropractor, massage, and joint protection techniques. Some exercise protocols can include weight-bearing exercises to help prevent bone loss or even support weak bones.

Many alternatives may help with joint mobility and even pain available. One example of this is acupuncture, especially when it comes to assisting those with knee osteoarthritis. (13) NSAIDs are used to help with moderate to severe pain with this disease as well. However, NSAIDs can have adverse complications on the gastrointestinal tract when taken regularly. (14) Therefore, another alternative treatment that has gained popularity is turmeric or curcumin supplementation. Turmeric is a powerful flavonoid that has potent anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties. Curcumin is the main ingredient in turmeric responsible for helping with joint pain.

There are many types of treatment options when it comes to dealing with and managing osteoarthritis. They range from medications, alternative treatments, a healthy diet, weight management, spinal manipulation, massage, exercise protocols, joint protection techniques, physical therapy, and surgery.


Osteoarthritis can affect many joints in the body, although the most common ones include the hands, knees, hips, feet, and spine. Pain levels vary depending on age, severity, and diagnosis. The most common symptoms are stiffness in the joints, pain, swelling, and immobility, or a lack of movement. However, symptoms and pain can radiate to many other areas of the body, depending on what joints are affected.

Age is a large determinant in diagnosing and treating osteoarthritis. Many cases of this joint disease occur after the age of 65 years old, although some cases can occur after age 25. There are many variations when it comes to the types of this disease, so it is vital to know that everyone may go through different physical sensations and experiences. More research is necessary to support those who suffer from this joint disease.

There are many treatment options available to help with pain management, mobility, lifestyle modification, and improving quality of life. If you feel you have any of these symptoms, consult your healthcare provider to learn more about your options today. The quicker you take action, the less pain you will likely have in the long run. The right doctor can make sure you are in as little pain as possible and help to adjust your level of discomfort based on your symptoms, lifestyle, and much more.