Osteoarthritis Causes and Treatments

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability in America, more than back trouble, heart trouble, diabetes and others, and it is being fueled by the obesity epidemic. Age is the biggest risk factor, and being female is another. There is no known cure and it is progressive if not halted by treatment and lifestyle changes.


As we age, wear and tear on our joints accumulates from daily activities. Our bone ends are covered in a thin layer of cartilage which protects them from scraping together. Through constant use, cartilage breakdown often occurs. Any joint can be affected, but especially joints such as the knee, hip, spine and those in the hands.

Risk factors other than age and being female include:

  • Joint injury from accidents or athletics
  • An occupation that creates overused joints from repeated stress and pressure.
  • Obesity places greater pressure on the knee, hip, and spine, and fat itself produces a protein that can cause inflammation around the joints.
  • Genetics
  • Other diseases, such as gout, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis

Symptoms include pain, tenderness around the joint, stiffness, loss of mobility of the joint, a sound or feeling of grating or grinding when moving the joint, and bone spurs which can be seen by x-rays.

Arthritis worsens over time. A person may have to leave his or her job, and daily living may become difficult. A person who is overweight or obese is likely to have other conditions to deal with in addition to the arthritis and the weight problem.

Tests will show the evidence for the diagnosis. They include:

  • X-rays can see the narrowed space between the bones.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) will show cartilage, soft tissue and bone details. This is usually used only for complicated cases.
  • Blood tests may help rule out rheumatoid arthritis or another illness.
  • Joint fluid analysis is also used to rule out other illnesses such as gout or an infection.

Home remedies and lifestyle changes may help a mild or moderate case of arthritis. Pain and movement are helped by:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol), which will help pain but not inflammation. Caution must be taken not to take more than the recommended dose, due to possible liver damage.
  • NSAIDS (Advil, Motrin, Aleve and others) treat pain and inflammation. Prescription NSAIDS are stronger but have side effects and are not for people over 65 or who have stomach bleeding. Topical versions are effective.
  • Exercise is crucial. Walking, swimming, biking and other exercise will help by building muscle around the joints.
  • Losing weight is also very important because it relieves pressure on the joints. Obesity is a major factor in the worsening of symptoms.
  • Applications of heat can relieve stiffness and cold can help pain.

More tips can be learned from your physician. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Chronic pain class, which is available through the Arthritis Foundation and hospitals, guides patients in coping with pain and provides support from other other patients.

Medical and surgical treatments are the last resort and include:

  • Injections of corticosteroids into the joint to relieve pain.
  • For the knee, injections of hyaluronic acid, a lubricant, to provide a cushion.
  • Realigning the bones either above or below the knee to shift the body weight to a new spot, rather than the old joint.
  • Knee or hip replacement surgery.