Stella Bard, MD, is a board-certified Internist, specializing in rheumatology in Brooklyn, New York, and McKinney, Texas.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It develops when cartilage, the flexible tissue that allows bones in a joint to glide over each other, breaks down.
Osteoarthritis causes pain, stiffness, and swelling of the affected joints. While it is most common among adults over 65, people of any age can develop this condition.
Osteoarthritis is sometimes also referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and degenerative arthritis.
Treatment is aimed at reducing inflammation and pain and maximizing function.
It’s a common misconception that simple wear-and-tear on the joints causes osteoarthritis. While it’s part of the picture, genetics, metabolic issues, environmental factors, and trauma all have roles to play in the development of this disease. Age, gender, and other medical conditions may contribute to osteoarthritis as well.
There’s no single best treatment for osteoarthritis. You and your doctor should explore treatments and determine what’s best for you. You have many options, including:
No, osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease. It’s a degenerative disease caused by normal wear-and-tear on joints as you age, combined with genetics and other factors. However, some other types of arthritis are autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 rheumatic diseases that all involve pain, stiffness, and inflammation of joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types. The word “arthritis” literally means “joint inflammation.”
The word “arthropathy” literally means “joint disease” and it can be used to describe any type of joint disease, including arthritis. A distinguishing factor between arthritis and arthropathy is that arthritis always involves inflammation while arthropathy may or may not.
Also called osteophytes, bone spurs are growths that develop along the edge of a bone, usually on joints but sometimes where muscles and connective tissues attach to bones. Bone spurs are common in osteoarthritis, and some doctors believe they’re the body’s way of trying to replace worn-away cartilage. They may be painful, limit range of motion, and cause other symptoms depending on the location.
Cartilage is a tough, flexible tissue that acts as a cushion and shock absorber for your joints. When you move, it provides a smooth, low-friction surface for bones to glide across. If cartilage becomes damaged or worn away, such as in arthritis, it leads to pain, inflammation, and limited range of motion in the joint. Cartilage is also in your ears, nose, and airways.
Explore an interactive model that shows how osteoarthritis causes the thinning and destruction of cartilage, exposing the bone directly to the movement of the joint.
Zhang Y, Jordan JM. Epidemiology of osteoarthritis. Clin Geriatr Med. 2010;26(3):355-69. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2010.03.001
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis-related statistics. Updated July 18, 2018.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Arthropathy.
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