10 Important Facts About Osteoarthritis

Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments, and More

You've been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Of course, you and your doctor have discussed your condition and how to treat it, but it's likely you have more questions. These ten important facts about osteoarthritis may answer some of them.

Woman holding her knee
Michael Heim / EyeEm / Getty Images

1. Osteoarthritis Is the Most Common Type of Arthritis

You aren't alone. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 27 million Americans over age 25 have osteoarthritis. Because it's a condition that's associated with age, as the population gets older the number of folks dealing with this disease is likely to increase significantly.

2. Osteoarthritis Is Also Referred to As Wear-and-Tear Arthritis and Degenerative Arthritis

These less clinical terms refer to the way the condition develops. Osteoarthritis is typically caused by progressive damage to joint cartilage and to changes in structures around the joint, and symptoms come on gradually. This wear-and-tear is what causes pain and limited range of motion in the affected joint. Other symptoms caused by the degenerative process include joint effusion, accumulation of fluid in the joints; osteophytes, an overgrowth of bone more commonly known as bone spurs; and weakness of tendons and muscles.

3. Weight-bearing Joints Are Most Commonly Affected

Chances are your osteoarthritis is located in a joint that supports your weight, such as a knee, hip, or your spine. If you're overweight the excess pounds can increase pain and damage of these joints. Note that osteoarthritis also can affect fingers or any joint that's been damaged in some way—by traumatic injury, infection, or inflammation. One sign of osteoarthritis in fingers is swelling in the joints closest to the fingertips known as Heberden's nodes. Swelling of middle joints of fingers is called Bouchard's nodes.

4. Most Patients Have Increased Joint Pain During Activity Which Is Relieved With Rest

If you're active, you'll likely have some discomfort in the joints that are affected by osteoarthritis. You also may feel stiff when you get up in the morning, but after you've moved around for a half-hour or so that should disappear. And although regular exercise is beneficial for strengthening muscles around joints, if you have a bout of serious pain it might be a good idea to take it easy for a day or two.

5. The Disease Is More Prevalent Among Older People

Seventy percent of people older than 70 have osteoarthritis. Interestingly, only about half of them know it, because 50 percent of the time the condition is asymptomatic. The only proof of joint damage will show up in ​X-rays.

6. More Women Than Men Have Osteoarthritis

Before age 45, men are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, the NIH says, but after age 45 it's more prevalent in women.

7. There Are Certain Risk Factors

The most common risk factors associated with osteoarthritis include:

  • age
  • obesity
  • injury to or overuse of a particular  joint
  • family history
  • muscle weakness

Certain diseases also can increase a person's risk of developing osteoarthritis. These include rheumatoid arthritis; hemochromatosis (a genetic condition in which the body stores excessive amounts of iron); and acromegaly (a hormonal disorder that causes the body to produce too much growth hormone during adulthood).

8. Early Diagnosis and Treatment Is Important for Successful Management

If you're experiencing symptoms of osteoarthritis, it's important to see a doctor right away. The sooner your condition is confirmed, the sooner you can start treatment. Your regular internist can diagnose osteoarthritis or refer you to a rheumatologist. The doctor will take your medical history, do a physical examination, and order X-rays or an MRI to look for evidence of joint damage. You also may need blood tests to rule out other types of arthritis.

9. Treatment Options Focus on Controlling Pain, Preserving Function, and Slowing Progression

Your doctor will likely recommend one or more of the following treatment options to manage your osteoarthritis symptoms:

  • arthritis medications
  • exercise
  • weight control
  • joint protection techniques
  • complementary or alternative treatments
  • physical therapy/occupational therapy
  • surgery

10. By 2030, Approximately 20 Percent of Americans Will Be Over 65 and at High Risk for Developing Osteoarthritis

Regardless of your age, there are many lifestyle modifications that can help to lower your risk of developing osteoarthritis or help you manage the condition. Losing weight, being more active (especially doing exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your joints), and doing regular stretching is especially helpful.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Arthritis Foundation. "Osteoarthritis Treatment."

  • National Institutes of Health. "Handout on Health: Osteoarthritis." May 2016.