Osteoarthritis

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This page has been written for people affected by osteoarthritis. It provides general information to help you understand how osteoarthritis affects you and what you can do to manage it. It also tells you where to find further information and advice.

What is osteoarthritis (OA)?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that affects the joints. In a normal joint, the ends of the bones are covered by a layer of cartilage. Cartilage helps the joint move smoothly and cushions the ends of the bones. In OA, the cartilage breaks down and becomes thin. This leaves the ends of the bones unprotected, and the joint loses its ability to move smoothly. OA mainly affects people over the age of 45, but it can develop in younger people. Osteoarthritis is different to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become fragile and brittle, causing them to break more easily.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of OA vary from person to person. Your symptoms will also depend on which joints are affected. OA tends to come on slowly, over months or even years. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness of the joints. These feelings are usually worst after resting or not moving the joint for a while. These symptoms may affect your ability to do normal daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs and opening jars.

What causes it?

In many people there is no clear cause of OA. Research shows there are some things that may put you at more risk of developing OA in certain joints, such as:

  • knees: being overweight, having a previous knee injury, jobs involving kneeling, climbing and squatting
  • hips: being overweight, having a previous hip injury, jobs involving lifting heavy loads (including farming)
  • hands: having a history of OA in the family.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose OA from your symptoms and a physical examination. An x-ray may show the narrowing and changes in the shape of your joint. However x-rays do not diagnose how much trouble you will have. An x-ray that shows joint damage does not always mean you will have a lot of pain or problems. On the other hand your joint may be very painful despite x-rays being normal. Blood tests are only helpful to rule out other types of arthritis.

What will happen to me?

The impact of OA on your normal activities and lifestyle depends on which joints are affected. However the outlook for most people with OA is very positive. For many people OA will be mild and not cause major problems. OA of the hip and knee rarely causes severe disability but, when it does, surgery to replace joints is often very effective.

Is there a cure for OA?

Currently there is no cure for OA. While there are treatments that can effectively control symptoms, you should be wary of products or therapies that claim to cure OA.

Osteoarthritis continued...

For Ken and Evelyn Missen, living with osteoarthritis has had one valuable upside: it was the reason they met. They have both been active leaders of the Waves program in Melbourne for many years, and see the physical as well as the mental benefits of staying active. Apart from having eight grandchildren between them, they also work closely with at-risk and vulnerable people within their local community, and hope to encourage more men to seek treatment for their musculoskeletal conditions.

Ken and Evelyn tell their story

Page created on 06 March 2012 - Content updated on 12 December 2012