Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes the joints to become painful and stiff. It is the most common type of arthritis in the UK.
The severity of osteoarthritis symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, and between different affected joints. For some people, the symptoms may be mild and may come and go, whereas others can experience more continuous and severe problems.
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.
The pain and stiffness in the joints can make carrying out everyday activities difficult for some people with the condition.
When to seek medical advice
You should see your GP if you have persistent symptoms of osteoarthritis so they can try to identify the cause.
To help determine whether you have osteoarthritis, your GP will ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints.
Read more about diagnosing osteoarthritis.
What causes osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis occurs when there is damage in and around the joints that the body cannot fully repair. It’s not clear exactly why this happens in some people, although your chances of developing the condition can be influenced by a number of factors, such as your age and weight.
Osteoarthritis usually develops in people over 45 years of age, although younger people can also be affected. It is commonly thought that osteoarthritis is an inevitable part of getting older, but this is not quite true. You may in fact be able to reduce your chances of developing the condition by doing regular, gentle exercises and maintaining a healthy weight.
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 are overweight, wearing suitable footwear and 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.
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 adopting as healthy a lifestyle as 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.
Source: NHS UK