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Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage in the joints due to chronic inflammation of the joint lining. Osteoarthritis usually affects the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees. People with osteoarthritis usually have joint pain and limited movement of the affected joint.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis may cause:

  • Mild-to-severe pain in a joint, especially after overuse or long periods of inactivity, such as sitting for a long time
  • Creaking or grating sound in the joint
  • Swelling, stiffness or limited movement of the joint, especially in the morning
  • Deformity of the joint

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • X-ray to see internal body structures
  • CT scan to look at the extent of the arthritis
  • Arthrocentesis to rule out other causes of arthritis
  • Blood tests to rule out other causes of arthritis

Osteoarthritis Treatment

There is no treatment that stops cartilage loss or repairs damaged cartilage or bones. Treatment aims to reduce joint pain and inflammation and to improve joint function.

Medications, dietary supplements and weight loss, as well as alternative treatments like acupuncture, may be beneficial for people with osteoarthritis. Balneotherapy (hot water therapy), relaxation therapy, exercise, yoga and tai chi may also be helpful.

Mechanical Aids

Shoes with shock-absorbing soles may provide some relief while you are doing daily activities or exercising. Splints or braces help to properly align joints and distribute weight. Knee and wrist joints may benefit from elastic supports. Canes, crutches, walkers and orthopedic shoes can help with advanced osteoarthritis in the lower body.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Strengthening the muscles that support an arthritic joint (particularly the knee, lower back and neck) may decrease pain and absorb energy around the joint. For example, if you have arthritis in the knee, exercise and strength training can help improve knee function.

Swimming and water aerobics are good options as they do not put stress on the joint.

Another option is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). TENS is a machine that sends electrical signals through the skin to the nerves to try to decrease pain.

Assistive Devices

If you are having difficulty getting around due to arthritis pain, your doctor might recommend that you install handrails and grips throughout your home. These are useful in the bathroom and shower. You may need elevated seats, including toilet seats, if you're having difficulty rising after sitting.

Heat and Ice

Applying heat with hot water bottles, warm soaks, paraffin or heating pads helps joints and muscles move more easily. It can also lessen pain. Using ice packs after activity can also help.

Manual Therapy

If you have knee osteoarthritis, manual therapy, including massage therapy and manipulation, may be helpful.


Surgery can:

  • Reposition bones to redistribute stress on the joint
  • Replace joints
  • Remove loose pieces of bone or cartilage from joints

How to Prevent Osteoarthritis

To help reduce your chance of developing osteoarthritis, take these steps:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Do regular, gentle exercise, such as walking, stretching, swimming or yoga
  • Avoid repetitive motions and risky activities that may contribute to joint injury, especially after age 40
  • With advancing age, certain activities may have to be stopped or modified; it is important to continue to be active, so find an activity that suits you


Call 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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