Download Patient Handout - Osteoarthritis (PDF, 58 KB)
Osteoarthritis is a disease process that affects the cartilage within a joint. Cartilage exists at the surface of the ends of the bones and provides joints with a gliding surface and shock absorber during activities of daily living. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage layer to break down and wear away, exposing raw bone. The rubbing of bone on bone in the joint causes symptoms of pain, swelling and stiffness. The body's reaction to this condition is the formation of more bone (bone spurs) and increasing stiffness of the joint. These symptoms are often the reason why patients with osteoarthritis seek relief and treatment.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Approximately 12 percent of all Americans (21 million) have osteoarthritis.
Generally, osteoarthritis occurs as an accumulation of the wear and tear of the joint, and is more common in older adults. However, osteoarthritis can affect younger adults, primarily as a result of an injury to the joint. Osteoarthritis is more common in men under the age of 45 and more common in women over the age of 45. Other illnesses may also affect the cartilage in joints. An important factor that contributes to the development of osteoarthritis is excessive body weight or participation in recreational or professional activities that overstress certain joints.
Osteoarthritis is a disease process that affects not only your joints: it can also cause stiffness in the surrounding tendons, ligaments and muscles. This may make it difficult for you to maintain your normal level of activity, and may significantly affect your ability to enjoy life. Exercise is one of the most effective treatments for osteoarthritis. A routine exercise program can decrease joint pain and stiffness, while strengthening the heart. Exercise, when done correctly, has practically no side effects and can be done in a supervised (via physical therapy or fitness training with a professional) or non-supervised fashion in a gym or at home. Your doctor can help you identify exercises that are good for your particular situation.
Exercise, especially when coupled with a proper diet, will also help you with weight control. Every pound of weight you lose through exercise and/or diet will be approximately 5 pounds of weight that your knee does not have to carry! Weight loss should therefore be an important part of your contribution to treat osteoarthritis. A dietitian may help you develop a weight loss program that suits you best.
Many patients with osteoarthritis are afraid that they may need immediate surgery. That is not usually the case. Many non-surgical methods exist that will be available to your doctor to help you live with osteoarthritis and keep your pain under control while allowing you to be as active as you would like to be.
There are different medications and tools that your doctor can use to help you return to your normal activities:
If all of the above options have failed to give you relief it is likely that you may require surgery. Your surgeon will discuss the different surgical options with you. These options may include:
This information is not intended to replace specific instructions from your physician.