In the UK approximately 8.5 million people have painful joints attributed to osteoarthritis.1
Research is improving our understanding of osteoarthritis, but it’s still not clear exactly what causes it. What we do now know is that it is not as simple as ‘wear and tear’, and osteoarthritis is often the result of a combination of factors which can lead to the breakdown of cartilage in joints.2,3 There are some ways to manage osteoarthritis to help with pain, including keeping active.2
Cartilage is slippery protective tissue between the ends of the bones in a joint. It absorbs the shock of movement by preventing the bones from rubbing together. But as the cartilage breaks down, the bones begin to rub against each other.3,4,5 Once cartilage breaks down, it doesn't grow back, so over time the joint can become damaged.3
Signs and symptoms
Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the knees, hips and hands, but can also affect other areas of the body. Symptoms include joint pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness. You may notice a grating or crackling sound when you move the affected joint.3 It may initially feel better when you are resting,5 however, as osteoarthritis gets worse, you may feel pain even when you are at rest. It can even wake you up at night.6
Eventually, bone spurs (or extra bone) may form around the joint. The muscles around the joint may also get weaker and less stable.5
Are you at risk of developing this condition?
There are a number of risk factors for developing osteoarthritis. These include:1,2,3
- Older age. The risk of osteoarthritis increases with age. X-ray studies show that at least 50% of people older than 65 have evidence of osteoarthritis.
- Gender. Osteoarthritis is more common in women than men.
- Being overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese can put excess strain on knees and hips, leading to increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.
- Major joint injuries. While normal activity and exercise do not cause osteoarthritis, major joint injury or overuse of a joint through physically demanding movements (e.g. from certain sporting activities) can increase your risk of osteoarthritis later in life.
- Certain kinds of jobs. If your job places repetitive stress on a particular joint, you may eventually develop osteoarthritis in that joint.
- Genetics. People with family members who have osteoarthritis are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Living with Osteoarthritis
Living with osteoarthritis can be challenging. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but symptoms can be managed with lifestyle changes, medications (prescription or over-the-counter), or other therapies. Talk with your healthcare professional about how to help manage your osteoarthritis.3
Here are some lifestyle management tips that may be helpful for you or a loved one:3,7
- Stay active to help reduce joint pain and stiffness.
- Protect your joints from injury. For example, always warm up before exercising, do range-of-motion exercises such as stretching.
- Do slow and gentle stretching exercises, which may help lessen joint stiffness and reduce pain.
- Watch your weight or lose weight, which may help reduce stress on your joints.
- Use heat and cold therapies to reduce joint pain and swelling.
- Relax. Avoid stress through activities such as meditation and connecting with friends.
- Use assistive devices, such as canes, knee/leg braces or shoe inserts, if recommended.
Please note that patients should always consult their healthcare professional for information and advice on lifestyle management, such as exercise and weight loss, based on their individual circumstances.
- NICE Clinical Guideline CG177: Osteoarthritis: care and management Accessed Nov 2021
- Versus Arthritis. Osteoarthritis Information Booklet Accessed Nov 2021
- NHS UK. Osteoarthritis Accessed Nov 2021
- NHS UK. Cartilage damage Accessed Nov 2021
- Versus Arthritis. What is osteoarthritis? Accessed Nov 2021
- NHS. Osteoarthritis. Treatment and Support Accessed Nov 2021
PP-INT-GBR-0476 / November 2021