Osteoarthritis Health Center

An estimated 27 million people in the United States have osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between moving joints wears away, which causes bones to grind together and leads to joint pain, swelling and stiffness. For this reason, osteoarthritis is also known as the "wear and tear" arthritis. People with osteoarthritis also can develop bone spurs (extra bone that forms to correct the problem), which may add to the pain and inflammation.

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it most often affects the weight-bearing joints like the feet, knees, hips and spine. There is no single known cause of osteoarthritis; rather, many factors make a person prone to developing the condition. Old age, obesity and a previous joint injury are among the main risk factors for osteoarthritis. Diabetes, other forms of arthritis, damage to ligaments and inflammatory diseases can also play a role.

To diagnose osteoarthritis, doctors typically look at the patient's history and take an X-ray to look for joint damage. While osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, there are effective treatments. The main treatment options for osteoarthritis are physical therapy, weight loss (if needed), exercise and over-the-counter pain relief (ibuprofen, naproxen). Surgery may be an option in advanced cases with severe pain or disability.

Review Date: 
June 29, 2012
Last Updated:
July 21, 2014