Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the joints. It is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, and around 1 million people see their GP about it every year.
The NHS in England and Wales performs over 140,000 hip and knee replacement operations every year.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis
The symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from person to person, and between different affected joints.
For example, a joint may be severely damaged without causing symptoms, or symptoms may be severe without affecting the movement of a joint.
Three key characteristics of osteoarthritis are:
mild inflammation of the tissues in and around the joints
damage to cartilage, the strong, smooth surface that lines the bones and allows joints to move easily and without friction
bony growths that develop around the edge of the joints
This can lead to pain, stiffness and difficulty doing certain activities.
Osteoarthritis mostly occurs in the knees, hips, spine and small joints of the hands and base of the big toe. However, almost any joint can be affected.
Who develops osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis usually develops in people over 50 years of age and is more common in women than in men. It is commonly thought that osteoarthritis is an inevitable part of getting older, but this is not quite true. While in very old people the changes of osteoarthritis are visible on X-rays, they don’t always have related pain or problems with joint function.
Younger people can also be affected by osteoarthritis, often as a result of an injury or another joint condition.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the symptoms can be eased with several different treatments. Mild symptoms can often be managed with exercise or by wearing suitable footwear. However, in more advanced cases of osteoarthritis, other treatments may be necessary.
Treatment options may include:
non-drug treatments, such as physiotherapy and weight loss
medications, such as painkillers
surgery in a small number of cases, such as a knee or hip replacement
Living with osteoarthritis
As osteoarthritis is a long-term condition, it is important you get the right support to help you cope with any issues such as reduced mobility and advice on any necessary financial support.
As well as support from your healthcare team, it is important to look after your own health and wellbeing. This includes taking your medicine regularly and living a healthy lifestyle where possible.
Some people may also find it helpful to talk to their GP or others who are living with the same condition as there may be questions or worries you want to share.