19 December 2017
Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes joints to become painful and stiff. It's the most common type of arthritis in the UK
As well as joint pain and stiffness, people with osteoarthritis can also experience swelling, tenderness and a grating or crackling sound when moving the affected joints.
For some people, the symptoms can be mild and may come and go. Other people can experience more continuous and severe problems which make it difficult to carry out everyday activities.
Almost any joint can be affected by osteoarthritis, but the condition most often causes problems in the knees, hips and small joints of the hands.
In osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones breaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. Bony growths can develop, and the area can become inflamed (red and swollen).
The exact cause isn't known, but several things are thought to increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis, including:
- joint injury – overusing your joint when it hasn't had enough time to heal after an injury or operation
- other conditions (secondary arthritis) – osteoarthritis can occur in joints severely damaged by a previous or existing condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout
- age – your risk of developing the condition increases as you get older
- family history – osteoarthritis may run in families, although studies haven't identified a single gene responsible
- obesity – being obese puts excess strain on your joints, particularly those that bear most of your weight, such as your knees and hips
Osteoarthritis is a long-term condition and can't be cured, but it doesn't necessarily get any worse over time and it can sometimes gradually improve. A number of treatments are also available to reduce the symptoms.
Mild symptoms can sometimes be managed with simple measures including:
- regular exercise
- losing weight if you're overweight
- wearing suitable footwear
- using special devices to reduce the strain on your joints during your everyday activities
If your symptoms are more severe, you may need additional treatments such as painkilling medication and a structured exercise plan carried out under the supervision of a physiotherapist.
In a small number of cases, where the above treatments haven't helped or the damage to the joints is particularly severe, surgery may be carried out to repair, strengthen or replace a damaged joint.
Minimising the risk of osteoarthritis
It's not possible to prevent osteoarthritis altogether. However, you may be able to minimise your risk of developing the condition by avoiding injury and staying as healthy as possible.
You can do this by taking part in activities which better support your joints such as swimming and cycling. Exercise which puts strain on your joints such as running is to be avoided.
It can also help to maintain good posture and avoid staying in the same position for too long.
Our Perform Physiotherapy team can provide full treatment planning for any condition affecting your muscles, tendons, joints or nerves. We can offer fast referral to scans and orthopaedic surgeons.