Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis and causes pain and stiffness in your joints. It usually occurs in adults aged over 50 but can affect adults of all ages.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the gradual wear and tear of your joints which causes pain and stiffness. Normally the surfaces of your joints are surrounded by a tissue called cartilage, which prevents your bones from rubbing against each other. Over time cartilage can become worn away which can cause pain and stiffness in your joints, spinal stenosis, as well as swelling

How to tell if you have osteoarthritis

The most common osteoarthritis symptoms are pain and stiffness in your joints – it's common to notice knee pain or hip pain, but it can affect any joint, including your neck, back, hands and feet.

Other symptoms include:

Some people find that their symptoms are worse at night, in cold and/or damp weather.

You should see your GP if you have persistent problems with your joints, particularly if it's:

  • Affecting your sleep
  • Preventing you from getting on with your everyday life
  • Affecting your overall mood and positive wellbeing

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms.

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for osteoarthritis

Your GP should be able to give you a diagnosis from a simple examination. See your GP or use the consultant finder below to book an appointment with a specialist at your nearest Spire hospital.

It's important that you get an accurate diagnosis for osteoarthritis as it can be confused with other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In some cases, you may need further tests such as an X-ray or blood test to rule out other causes.

Causes of osteoarthritis

There are many factors that may increase your risk of osteoarthritis, and is often a mixture of the following:

  • Age – osteoarthritis usually begins from your late 40s onward
  • Gender – osteoarthritis is more common in women than men
  • Obesity – being overweight places greater strain on your joints
  • Family history – if your parents or grandparents have or had osteoarthritis, you may be at a higher risk     
  • Activity – activities, sports and jobs that place excessive strain on your joints can contribute to wear and tear
  • Previous injury – fractures, dislocated joints, ligament injuries or even an operation can increase your chances of osteoarthritis later in life
  • Meniscus tear

Common treatments for osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can't be cured, but there are treatments that can help and things you can do yourself to manage it. Simple things such as exercise, weight loss and over-the-counter painkillers can make a difference. Treatments that can help with osteoarthritis vary depending on the severity and affected joints, but they include: