The Prognosis for Osteoarthritis

Newly diagnosed arthritis patients want to know their prognosis almost as soon as they hear the diagnosis. It's only natural that you want to know what will happen and what to expect years down the road.

Osteoarthritis is considered an old person's disease, and is expected to get worse with age. How accurate is that, though? In reality, OA can occur in anyone with joint damage. It progresses rather slowly, and may be diagnosed as early as your 20s.

Osteoarthritis prognosis

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Do All Osteoarthritis Patients Get Worse?

Osteoarthritis is viewed by most people as a gradual wearing out of the joints – you could say it's slowly progressive. The most current research, though, indicates that not all osteoarthritis patients worsen; some actually stabilize.

Rapidly progressive joint damage is not common in osteoarthritis. Although about 40 percent of older people have X-ray evidence revealing significant osteoarthritis in their hips and knees, less than 5 percent undergo joint replacement surgery. Based on this fact alone, osteoarthritis does not continue to worsen for most patients.

What Happens as Osteoarthritis Develops?

Medical experts portray an accurate osteoarthritis prognosis as follows:

  • Most osteoarthritis cases do stabilize.
  • Some osteoarthritis cases progress.
  • A small number of osteoarthritis patients improve spontaneously.

Osteoarthritis has active and less active phases. During the active phases, osteophytes form, the joint capsule thickens, the subchondral bone (the layer of bone under cartilage) changes, and there is cartilage loss.

Even with X-ray evidence of OA during different phases, a patient can still be free of osteoarthritis symptoms.

Comorbidities Contribute to Disability

The prognosis of osteoarthritis is not necessarily bad. Remember that older people commonly have co-morbidities (conditions that occur together). For people with osteoarthritis, co-morbidities might be more responsible for worsening disability than osteoarthritis itself.

How You May Improve Your OA Prognosis

Osteoarthritis cannot be reversed; however, it can be treated. It is also possible that a few simple lifestyle changes can slow its progression and improve your personal prognosis.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, losing just 10 pounds of weight over a 10-year period can reduce the chances of developing OA by up to 50 percent. They also recommend that if you are overweight and have been diagnosed with OA, daily strength exercises and other weight-loss strategies can help take the pressure off your joints.

In addition, it is recommended that you limit the amount of work done by the affected joints. Simple things like raising the height of chairs you sit on and reducing the number of repetitive motions the joint perform can have a significant impact. Using assistive devices, like walking with a cane can also improve the level of pain you feel.

Overwhelming evidence advices to exercise, control your weight, and rest the joint.

Beyond drug treatment for managing pain and reducing the swelling associated with OA, some people also take dietary supplements. However, as noted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is no conclusive evidence that the supplements work. Some preliminary evidence does show promise, but most of these alternative therapies still need more research to look into their safety and effectiveness.

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.
  • Bastik AN, Runhaar J, Belo JN, Bierma-Zeinstra SMA. Prognostic Factors for Progression of Clinical Osteoarthritis of the Knee: a Systematic Review of Observational Studies. Arthritis Research & Therapy. 2015;17:152.
  • Dieppe P.  Osteoarthritis: Course, Prognosis, and Outcome. In: Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, ed. Klippel JH, Stone JH, Crofford LJ, White PH. 13th ed. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag;2008:227.
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 6 Things You Should Know About Dietary Supplements for Osteoarthritis. 2015.
  • Udel J. Osteoarthritis. American College of Rheumatology. 2017.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."