The Basics of Osteoarthritis

The Basics of Osteoarthritis

The Basics of Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is a general term that means inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis, commonly known as wear and tear arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body. It commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees, and spine. It also affects the fingers, thumb, neck, and large toe.

Osteoarthritis — also called OA — usually does not affect other joints unless previous injury , excessive stress or an underlying disorder of cartilage is involved.

Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in normal joints. Its main function is to reduce friction in the joints and serve as a “shock absorber.” The shock-absorbing quality of normal cartilage comes from its ability to change shape when compressed (flattened or pressed together).

Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in a joint to become stiff and lose its elasticity, making it more susceptible to damage. Over time, the cartilage may wear away in some areas, greatly decreasing its ability to act as a shock absorber. As the cartilage deteriorates, tendons and ligaments stretch, causing pain. If the condition worsens, the bones could rub against each other.


Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 27 million Americans. The chance of developing the disease increases with age. Most people over age 60 have osteoarthritis to some degree, but its severity varies. Even people in their 20s and 30s can get osteoarthritis, although there is often an underlying reason, such as joint injury or repetitive joint stress from overuse. In people over age 50, more women than men have osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis most often develop gradually and include:


There are several factors that increase a person’s chances of developing osteoarthritis. These include:

The diagnosis of osteoarthritis is based on a combination of the following factors:

Your doctor may use X-rays to help confirm the diagnosis and make sure you don’t have another type of arthritis. X-rays show how much joint damage has occurred. An MRI may be necessary to get a better look at the joint and surrounding tissues if the X-ray results do not clearly point to arthritis or another condition.

Sometimes, blood tests will be performed to determine if you have a different type of arthritis.

If fluid has accumulated in the joints, your doctor may remove some of the fluid (called joint aspiration) for examination under a microscope to rule out other diseases.

Osteoarthritis usually is treated by a combination of treatments, including exercise, weight loss if needed, medications, physical therapy with muscle strengthening exercises, hot and cold compresses to the painful joint, removal of joint fluid, injection of medications into the joint, and use of supportive devices such as crutches or canes. Surgery may be helpful to relieve pain when other treatment options have not been effective.

The type of treatment will depend on several factors, including your age, activities and occupation, overall health, medical history, location of your osteoarthritis, and severity of the condition.

Staying at your recommended weight helps prevent osteoarthritis of the knees, hips, and spine, reduces the stress on these weight-bearing joints, and reduces pain in joints already affected. Once you have osteoarthritis, losing weight also can relieve the stress and pain in your knees.

Exercise is important to improve joint movement and to strengthen the muscles that surround the joints. Gentle exercises, such as swimming or walking on flat surfaces, are recommended, because they are less stressful on your joints. Avoid activities that increase joint pain, such as jogging or high impact aerobics. Exercises that strengthen the muscles reduce pain in patients with osteoarthritis, particularly with osteoarthritis of the knee.

The first step with medication is often over-the-counter pain relievers as needed. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). Don’t take over-the-counter medications for more than 10 days without checking with your doctor. Taking them longer than that increases the chance of side effects. If over-the-counter treatments aren’t effective, your doctor may decide to prescribe a stronger anti-inflammatory drug or other medication to help ease the pain. Some medications in the form of creams, rubs, or sprays may be applied over the skin of affected areas to relieve pain. For some people with persistent pain despite these pills or creams, steroids can be injected directly into the joint. These injections can be given several times a year, though some experts believe this may ultimately accelerate joint damage.

Injections of hyaluronic acid directly into the knee joint can relieve pain in some people with osteoarthritis.

When osteoarthritis pain is severe and other treatments are not working, some doctors will give stronger pain pills, such as narcotics.

Unfortunately, none of these will reverse or slow the progression of joint damage caused by osteoarthritis.

While recent research has questioned their usefulness, some medical research has shown that the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin may relieve pain in some people with osteoarthritis, especially in the knee. There is no evidence that glucosamine can help rebuild cartilage. SAMe is another supplement with potential benefits for osteoarthritis. In fact, some research has shown it may be as effective an anti-inflammatory drugs. Remember to always let your doctor know about any supplements you’re taking, because they can have side effects and interact with medications.

Acupuncture has also been shown to provide significant and immediate pain relief in some people with osteoarthritis.

Supportive or assistive devices can help to decrease pressure on the joints with osteoarthritis. Knee supports may be helpful for some people to stabilize the ligaments and tendons and decrease pain. Canes or crutches may be helpful to take pressure off certain joints.

In addition to pain relief, assistive devices improve function and prevent falls. A licensed physical therapist or other health care professional is needed to recommend what devices are best for you.

There are also many available devices to help you perform routine daily activities that may be difficult, such as housework or cooking. Ask your doctor about talking to an occupational therapist to give you ideas about which devices may help.

When osteoarthritis pain is not controlled with other treatments, or when the pain prevents you from participating in your normal activities, you may want to consider surgery.

There are several types of surgery for osteoarthritis. They include:

Talk to your doctor to determine if any of these treatment options are right for you.





Arthritis Foundation. 

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.


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The Basics of Osteoarthritis

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What Is Hand Osteoarthritis?

What Is Hand Osteoarthritis?

Do your fingers hurt when you try to open a jar? Hand osteoarthritis could be to blame. If you have this condition, pain and stiffness in your joints can make some basic tasks a whole lot harder. There’s no cure, but there are a lot of ways to protect your joints and ease your pain.

Osteoarthritis (OA) happens from wear and tear on your joints. On the ends of your bones, there’s a layer of smooth material called cartilage. It helps cushion the joints and allows them to slide easily. But over time, the cartilage gets worn down. The bones begin to rub against each other, causing the symptoms of hand OA.

Other things can increase your chances of OA in your hands, too. You’re more likely to get it if you’re:

Injuries, like broken bones or dislocations, can also raise the chances of OA, even if you got treatment for them. So can joint infections. And your genes play a role too, since OA can run in families.

The most common ones are pain and stiffness, which may be worse in the morning. You could also notice that your joint hurts after you use it a lot but feels better when you rest it.

Over time, the symptoms may get worse. The pain may become constant and sharper, and the stiffness can get bad enough that you can’t bend your finger joints all the way.

Hand osteoarthritis can cause other problems, like:

Bumps and lumps.
Two types of bony bumps near your finger joints are common. Bouchard’s nodes show up on the middle joint of a finger, and Heberden’s nodes on the joint near your fingertip. You’re also more likely to get cysts, which are bumps filled with fluid, near your fingertip joints, too.

Clicking and cracking.

That’s the sound of the surfaces of your joints rubbing against each other as the cartilage breaks down.

Swelling and redness.

This is a sign of inflammation around the joint.


Pain and joint damage can make it harder to do things like turn doorknobs or lift heavy pots.

Other changes in appearance.

Over time, the swelling and breakdown of cartilage and bone can change the shape of your joints and make them bigger.

OA can affect many of the joints in your hands, but it’s most common in:


Your doctor will look at your hands and ask you questions about your symptoms and family history. You’ll probably get X-rays, too.

Your doctor will also rule out other causes of painful joints, like rheumatoid arthritis.

There are several ways that you can get relief from pain and improve your ability to use your hand.

Some home treatments that can help are:

Exercise and steps to protect your joints.

An expert called a hand therapist can show you exercises and new strategies for everyday tasks. For example, instead of carrying grocery bags with your fingers, you could carry them over your forearm instead.

Assistive devices.

A splint or sleeve can help hold your hand in a stable position to reduce pain. Special pens, kitchen utensils, and other tools with big grips may be easier to use.

Ice or heat.

Ice may help reduce swelling and pain, while heat, like a warm washcloth or a paraffin bath, may help your joints loosen up.

Your doctor may also suggest different types of medications, such as:

Skin treatments.

Medicated creams with painkillers can give you relief when you rub them on sore joints. Gels with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help.

Painkiller pills.

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs like ibuprofen can ease pain.

Cortisone shots.

An injection into the joint may help, but the effects may wear off.


Many people take glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for OA, but there’s no clear evidence they help. Ask your doctor if they’re OK to try.

If other treatments haven’t worked or symptoms make it hard to use your hand, you and your doctor may consider surgery. One option is joint fusion, where the surgeon fuses the bones together. There are drawbacks, though. You’ll get pain relief, but you won’t be able to bend your joint the way you used to.

Surgery that removes and replaces the joint can be an option, too.

While hand osteoarthritis is common, you don’t have to accept it. If your symptoms are getting in the way of the things you want to do, talk to your doctor and get treatment.


American Society for Surgery of the Hand: “Osteoarthritis.”

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ OrthoInfo: “Arthritis of the Hand.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Osteoarthritis of the Hands,” “Topical NSAIDs Offer Rub-on Relief.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Arthritis of the Wrist and Hand.”

UpToDate: “Management of Hand Osteoarthritis.”


Even with arthritis pain.

Here are 7 easy tips.

How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.

Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.


© 2005 – 2018 WebMD LLC. All rights reserved.

WebMD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

See additional information.

What Is Hand Osteoarthritis?

Research & References of What Is Hand Osteoarthritis?|A&C Accounting And Tax Services