What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term for the inflammation of a joint. Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common causes of joint pain. Sometimes called degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, it’s a condition that causes the breakdown of joint cartilage. Cartilage is the rubbery tissue covering the ends of moving bones within a joint, acting as both a shock absorber and lubricant that protects your bones from damage and provides a smooth, pain-free movement. As osteoarthritis wears down this tissue, the bones begin to make painful bone-on-bone contact.

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Arthritis is diagnosed through the evaluation of symptoms and a physical examination often performed by an orthopedic surgeon. X-rays can show the extent of damage to the joint. The joints most commonly affected include the knees, hips, fingers and shoulders. Common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain while standing or moving
  • Giving out or locking of the joint
  • Near-constant joint pain
  • Decreased activity due to pain
  • Abnormal stance or walk

As arthritis progresses, activities like walking, driving and standing can become painful. Early stage osteoarthritis can be treated with a variety of conservative, non-surgical treatments.

Treatments include moderate, doctor-prescribed exercise and physical therapy to keep your joints moving and to help relieve moderate joint pain. Joints that are not regularly exercised can become tight and painful. Excess body weight places extreme pressure on the joints. If you are overweight, your doctor may recommend weight loss to help relieve unwanted stress and pain in your joints.

As the joint cartilage continues to wear away and the symptoms of osteoarthritis become more severe, surgery may be recommended to correct the damaged bone and cartilage. Joint replacement is a surgical option for many patients.

While there is no known cure for osteoarthritis, researchers continue to make progress in finding the underlying causes of the disease. An orthopedic specialist can provide treatment options and help you reduce pain and return to normal activity.