Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. Some people call it degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. It occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees.
With OA, the cartilage within a joint begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change. These changes usually develop slowly and get worse over time. OA can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling. In some cases it also causes reduced function and disability; some people are no longer able to do daily tasks or work.
- Pain or aching.
- Decreased range of motion (or flexibility).
OA affects over 32.5 million US adults.
OA is caused by damage or breakdown of joint cartilage between bones.
- Joint injury or overuse—Injury or overuse, such as knee bending and repetitive stress on a joint, can damage a joint and increase the risk of OA in that joint.
- Age—The risk of developing OA increases with age.
- Gender—Women are more likely to develop OA than men, especially after age 50.
- Obesity—Extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees. This stress increases the risk of OA in that joint. Obesity may also have metabolic effects that increase the risk of OA.
- 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.
A doctor diagnoses OA through a review of symptoms, physical examination, X-rays, and lab tests.
A rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis and other related conditions, can help if there are any questions about the diagnosis.
There is no cure for OA, so doctors usually treat OA symptoms with a combination of therapies, which may include the following:
- Increasing physical activity.
- Physical therapy with muscle strengthening exercises.
- Weight loss.
- Medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription drugs.
- Supportive devices such as crutches or canes.
- Surgery (if other treatment options have not been effective).
In addition to these treatments, people can gain confidence in managing their OA with self-management strategies. These strategies help reduce pain and disability so people with osteoarthritis can pursue the activities that are important to them. These five simple and effective arthritis management strategies can help.
Physical Activity for Arthritis
Some people are concerned that physical activity will make their arthritis worse, but joint-friendly physical activity can actually improve arthritis pain, function, and quality of life.
CDC’s Arthritis Program recommends five self-management strategies for managing arthritis and its symptoms.
- Learn self-management skills. Join a self-management education class, which helps people with arthritis and other chronic conditions—including OA—understand how 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.
- Get physically active. Experts recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes per week of at least moderate physical activity. Every minute of activity counts, and any activity is better than none. 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 people who worry that physical activity may make 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.
- Talk to your doctor. You can play an active role in controlling your arthritis by attending regular appointments with your health care provider and following your recommended treatment plan. This is especially important if you also have other chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease.
- 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.
- Protect your joints. Joint injuries can cause or worsen arthritis. Choose activities that are easy on the joints like walking, bicycling, and swimming. These low-impact activities have a low risk of injury and do not twist or put too much stress on the joints. Learn more about how to exercise safely with arthritis.
Learn more about osteoarthritis
- Osteoarthritis—National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseasesexternal icon
- Osteoarthritis—MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicineexternal icon
- Osteoarthritis—American College of Rheumatologyexternal icon
- A National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis: 2020 Update pdf icon[PDF – 3MB]