Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease which mainly affects the joints of the knee, hip, hand and spine. It is caused by damage to ligaments, tendons and cartilage within and around the joint, leading to inflammation, pain, swelling, stiffness and, as the disease progresses, the formation of bony lumps called osteophytes and eventually an inability to bend the joint. Whilst osteoarthritis is associated with the ageing process, it can occur at any age and may develop from an acute injury, surgery, or can manifest in joints bearing the excess weight of obesity. Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed through the use of X-Rays and blood tests.
Sometimes osteoarthritis presents as a pain free condition, despite the obvious joint deformity, or the pain may only arise during inflammatory episodes. For most people, the pain and stiffness are constant reminders of the diseased joints. Joints may be tender to touch, and can often be heard grating during movement, and they may give way without warning. As the disease progresses, pain is often felt in other parts of the body, such as the groin if the hip is affected, or in the arms and shoulders if osteoarthritis is affecting the neck region.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the symptoms can be managed to some extent through gentle exercise, such as swimming and cycling. Mobility and dexterity may be reduced by bone deformities and an inability to bend or straighten the affected joint. It is important to remain as active as possible, despite the pain and stiffness, to prevent or reduce muscle wastage and weakness around the affected joint. Walking may become increasingly difficult due to pain within the hip and knee joints, with ascending and descending stairs likely to increase pain, swelling and stiffness. Pain may also become worse at night or when resting, and medication may be needed to ease symptoms.