By Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

Osteoarthritis is inflammation that occurs inside a joint when the cartilage begins to breakdown. It is also known as degenerative joint disease.  There are several types of arthritis but Osteoarthritis is the most common.

OA can form in any joint of the body but is usually seen in the major joints, such as the knees and hips. OA begins to form once the body’s natural shock absorber (cartilage) breaks down. Cartilage provides support in all of the body’s joints to allow for cushioning and easy gliding between the bones of a joint. Once this layer of cushion has been worn away the bones will grind on each other which will lead to increased pain and may cause the bones to break down.

Image of a healthy knee joint and a knee with osteoarthritis

2 Major Reasons for Osteoarthritis

  1. Overuse
  2. Underuse

Overuse of a joint occurs with high intensity weight bearing or loading activity over time. This may increase with higher body weight. The excessive forces begin to breakdown the cartilage on the joint surfaces. This can lead to osteoarthritis.

Underuse of a joint occurs with prolonged bedrest or sedentary lifestyle. When joints are not moved or stimulated, the cartilage begins to breakdown. This can also lead to osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

OA symptoms may increase slowly and build in intensity over time. Some of the signs of osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain: Hips/knees may experience pain after movement.
  • Stiffness: This may be especially noticeable after a period of rest or inactivity.
  • Popping or grating: You may experience a grating sensation when bending the joint, or hear a pop.
  • Loss of flexibility: The joint may not be able to go through its full range of motion.

Anatomical image of a joint that is healthy on the left and has osteoarthritis on the right with cartilage degeneration in the synovial fluid

Causes and Risk Factors of Osteoarthritis

  • Previous injuries: Any kind of injury puts you at an increased risk for OA, even if the injury occurred years ago.
  • Obesity: Extra weight puts more pressure on weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.
  • Imbalances of the hip and thigh musculature.

Stages of Osteoarthritis

Image of the 4 stages of osteoarthritis in the knee

4 stages of osteoarthritis in the knee

Osteoarthritis Treatment

Since there is no actual cure for osteoarthritis, there are a number of things your doctor may recommend. These may include the following:

  • Physical Therapy: Range of Motion and strength exercises
  • Increase activity. Go on walks, do some light stretching, etc.
  • Weight loss
  • Surgery: This is usually the last option, if other treatments have not been effective

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