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Osteoarthritis Fact Sheet

What is osteoarthritis (OA)?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It is sometimes called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. It most frequently occurs in the hands, hips, and knees.
With OA, the cartilage and bones within a joint begin to break down. These changes usually develop slowly and get worse over time. OA can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling, and can result in disability.

What are the signs and symptoms of OA?

  • Pain or aching.
  • Stiffness.
  • Decreased range of motion.
  • Swelling.

How many people get OA?

OA affects over 30 million US adults.

What causes OA?

OA is caused by damage or breakdown of joint cartilage between bones.

What are the risk factors for OA?

  • Joint injury or overuse (such as knee bending and repetitive stress on a joint).
  • Age—The risk of developing OA increases with age.
  • Gender—Women are more likely to develop OA than men, especially after age 50.
  • Being obese—Extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.
  • Genetics—People who have family members with OA are more likely to develop OA. People who have hand OA are more likely to develop knee OA.
  • Race— Some Asian populations have lower risk for OA.

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How is OA diagnosed?

OA is diagnosed through a physical examination and review of symptoms, X-rays, and lab tests.
OA should be diagnosed by a doctor, particularly a rheumatologist who specializes in arthritis and other related conditions.

How is OA treated?

Doctors usually treat OA with a combination of therapies, which may include the following:

  • Physical activity.
  • Medications, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Physical therapy with muscle strengthening exercises.
  • Weight loss.
  • Supportive devices such as crutches or canes.
  • Surgery (if other treatment options have not been effective).

In addition to medical treatment, people with OA can gain confidence in managing their condition with self-management strategies proven to reduce pain and disability, so they can pursue the activities important to them. People with OA can relieve pain and improve function of your joints by learning and using five simple and effective arthritis management strategies.

What are the complications of OA?

Osteoarthritis can cause severe joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. In some cases it also causes reduced function and disability; some people are no longer able to do daily tasks and, in some cases, are not able to work. Severe cases may require joint replacement surgery, particularly for knee or hip OA.

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How can someone with OA improve their quality of life?

  • Get physically active. Experts recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, or 30 minutes a day for 5 days. Moderate, low impact activities recommended include walking, swimming, or biking. Regular physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Learn more about physical activity for arthritis.
  • Go to effective physical activity programs. For those who worry about making OA worse or are unsure how to exercise safely, participation in physical activity programs can help reduce pain and disability related to arthritis and improve mood and the ability to move. Classes take place at local Ys, parks, and community centers. These classes can help people with OA feel better. Learn more about CDC-recommended physical activity programs.
  • Join a self-management education class, which helps people with arthritis and other chronic conditions—including OA—understand how the arthritis affects their lives and increase their confidence in controlling their symptoms and living well. Learn more about the CDC-recommended self-management education programs.
  • Lose weight. For people who are overweight or obese, losing weight reduces pressure on joints, particularly weight bearing joints like the hips and knees. Reaching or maintaining a healthy weight can relieve pain, improve function, and slow the progression of OA.

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