Osteoarthritis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Osteoarthritis is a painful joint condition that can make moving difficult and uncomfortable.

This disease is the most common form of arthritis, affecting tens of millions of people in the United States.

While osteoarthritis commonly affects older adults, it is not an inevitable part of aging, and there are many good treatment options to help someone with this condition live the lifestyle they want.

What is Osteoarthritis?

osteoarthritis knee

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis, or inflammation in the joint.

This condition occurs when cartilage wears down and becomes destroyed.

Cartilage is the smooth protective tissue that covers the ends of each joint, allowing bones to glide against each other without creating friction.

As the cartilage wears down, movement becomes more difficult and causes damage and irritation.

When cartilage damage becomes severe, the ends of the bones in affected joints will actually start rubbing against each other; this is very uncomfortable, causes inflammation, and makes the joint more difficult to move.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?


It used to be thought that osteoarthritis was just “wear-and-tear” that accumulated throughout one’s life; however, medical researchers now believe that this is not the case.

While the cause of osteoarthritis is not just overuse of joints, scientists are not sure exactly how it is caused.

Medical research has shown that there are many different things that predispose someone to developing osteoarthritis.

Injury to a joint, for example, leads to an increased risk that osteoarthritis will develop later in life in that joint.

The exact science behind how injuries or other risk factors increase the risk of osteoarthritis is still a matter of ongoing research.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can lead to many symptoms.

Almost all of these symptoms are caused by bones rubbing against each other as the cartilage that protects them wears down and ceases to protect them.

Osteoarthritis will generally affect individual joints instead of every joint in the body, although more than one joint is often involved.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include:

  • Pain in the affected joints during or after moving
  • Stiffness, especially when waking up or after periods of not moving
  • Limitations in the range of motion in the affected joints
  • Crepitus - a grating, creaking sensation when moving the affected joints
  • Swelling in the affected joints
  • Tenderness, even when the joint is not being moved
  • Bone changes as new bone grows in response to bones rubbing against each other
Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Some symptoms of osteoarthritis may be similar to symptoms that occur with other diseases, and it is important to have osteoarthritis diagnosed by a medical professional.

Diagnosing yourself could cause delayed treatments for medical conditions that require prompt attention.

Osteoarthritis Risk Factors

While it is impossible to predict who will and will not develop osteoarthritis, there are many risk factors that can help determine who has a higher probability of developing osteoarthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

Osteoarthritis Risk Factors

Risk Factor



Most people who develop osteoarthritis are at least 50 years old. The older you are, the greater chance there is that you will develop osteoarthritis.


Fracture of a bone or injury to a joint can cause osteoarthritis to develop. Serious injuries can cause osteoarthritis to occur quite quickly.


Being overweight can cause additional, constant stress on your joints. This can lead to multiple small injuries that increase your risk of osteoarthritis later in life.


Using a joint over and over again can lead to injuries. Working in a job or playing a sport with repetitive motions can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Skeletal deformities

Abnormal bone structure can lead to stress and damage to joints that increases the risk of osteoarthritis occurring.

Weak muscles

Weak muscles can affect how well your joints are aligned and function. Weakness can lead to increased osteoarthritis risk.


Osteoarthritis carries a genetic risk, and those who have blood relatives with osteoarthritis are more likely to develop it themselves.


Females are significantly more likely to develop osteoarthritis than males with similar health and genetic makeup.


Diet and other environmental factors are thought to play a role in how likely it is that someone will develop osteoarthritis.

Some osteoarthritis risk factors, such as gender or age, are impossible to change.

These are called non-modifiable risk factors, as you are not able to influence them.

Modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, can be influenced and changed to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. 

Risk factors like obesity and overuse are considered modifiable risk factors.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is another common form of arthritis, and people often wonder what the difference is between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis typically impacts individual joints and is caused by wearing or damage in the joint affecting the cartilage.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in your joints.

This leads to inflammation and pain but is often more systemic, affecting multiple joints in your body and having an equal effect on the same type of joints on both sides.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in the joint that leads to other symptoms, while osteoarthritis causes joint deterioration that may cause inflammation as a side effect.

How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

There is no single test that can be used to diagnose osteoarthritis, and a diagnosis of osteoarthritis is typically made based on the patient’s symptoms and risk factors.

When a doctor thinks that you have osteoarthritis, they will typically look at all the symptoms you are experiencing together and consider if it matches the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

They will also rule out any other causes that could explain your symptoms.

While they may order tests like X-rays and blood work, these tests will often be interpreted in the context of the symptoms that you have and will not typically be used by themselves to diagnose osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis Treatments

Osteoarthritis Treatments

There are many potential treatments for osteoarthritis that can help you to live the lifestyle that you want to.

Osteoarthritis treatments include:

  • Medications - Non-opioid oral pain medication can be used to both decrease inflammation and reduce pain that osteoarthritis causes. Injectable medications may also be given in the joints to decrease inflammation and provide lubrication at the site that is bothering you.
  • Therapy - Occupational therapy and physical therapy can provide support in reducing further damage to a joint affected by osteoarthritis. Therapy can also help you to learn new ways to do movement-related tasks that reduce stress or pain on joints affected by osteoarthritis.
  • Surgery - In more severe cases, surgery to realign bones or even completely replace a damaged joint may be necessary to repair the limited range of motion and stiffness. A full joint replacement will also help to almost or fully eliminate the pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Whatever treatment you use, it is important to get treatment for osteoarthritis if you need it.

Osteoarthritis can affect your lifestyle and overall health if it goes untreated and cause harm to more than just your joints.

At Southwest Florida Rheumatology, we have extensive experience with how to effectively treat and manage osteoarthritis.

We invite you to contact us today to learn how we can help you.

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