What Is Osteoarthritis: What Causes Osteoarthritis?

What Is Osteoarthritis? Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis (painful inflammation of the joints). Also known as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is usually the result of aging and general wear-and-tear of the joints; although, it can also be caused by injury. Osteoarthritis usually affects the joints in the hands, feet and spine as well as the larger weight-bearing joints in the knees and hips. Another common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Learning what is osteoarthritis will help you find ways to ease the pain and discomfort with this condition.

The people most likely to be affected by osteoarthritis arthritis (barring injury) are adults aged 45 and older and athletes, or anyone who’s profession requires constant movement. Because it is a degenerative disease, osteoarthritis will worsen over time. The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain, often described as a dull ache, and stiffness in the joints. Some people may hear a clicking or crackling sound when they move the joint.

What causes osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by the break down of the cartilage around the joints. As the cartilage breaks down, the bones that are being connected by the joints start to rub together, causing painful inflammation and stiffness in the joints. For many, osteoarthritis is a part of the aging process. As a person reaches a certain age, generally around 45, the wear-and-tear of using their joints day to day for years eventually causes the cartilage to begin breaking down. Athletes also have a high risk of developing osteoarthritis because they are constantly moving and using their joints. This constant movement can cause the cartilage to wear away faster than normal. People who are obese are at risk of developing osteoarthritis because of the excess weight and stress being put on their joints. Certain injuries, such as ACL tears, and joints that have been affected by bone fractures and surgeries can lead to osteoarthritis.

Common treatments for osteoarthritis:

Since there is no cure, treatments for osteoarthritis aim to relieve symptoms and pain. For people with mild to moderate pain, over the counter medication such as Tylenol may help, but will not reduce inflammation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, i.e. Advil and Aleve, may help to reduce inflammation as well as relieve pain. For more severe osteoarthritis pain, prescription medication may help relieve pain. These medications usually contain codeine-like ingredients and can result in dependence. Corticosteroids can be injected directly into the joint to relieve pain and swelling. A topical skin cream, such as capsaicin, may also help to relieve pain.


Non-drug treatments include physical therapy to increase range of motion and reduce pain, and exercise for weight-loss (if the person is over-weight) to reduce stress on the joints. Acupuncture has also been known to provide short-term pain relief for some people. In some cases surgery is an option for severe cases. Arthroscopic surgery is used to trim away damaged cartilage while an osteotomy will change the alignment of the bone, relieving stress on the joint or bone. It is even possible to partially or completely replace the damaged joint with an artificial joint such as with a hip and knee replacement.

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