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Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis caused by wear and tear of a joint. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body, however most commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees, and spine. Cartilage normally provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion and acts as a cushion between the bones. In OA, the cartilage breaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint and therefore stiffness.
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.
Although OA occurs in people of all ages, osteoarthritis is most common in people older than 65. Common risk factors include increasing age, obesity, previous joint injury, overuse of the joint, weak thigh muscles, and genetics.
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 to ensure the muscles surrounding the joint are in good strength to support the body weight, 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.