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What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a chronic, degenerative, joint disease that affects mostly middle-aged and older adults. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage and adjacent bone in the neck, lower back, knees, hips, and/or fingers. The disease is also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease.

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What causes osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary osteoarthritis has an unknown cause, while secondary osteoarthritis is caused by another disease, infection, injury, or deformity. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joint and adjacent bone.

As the cartilage wears down, the bone ends may thicken, forming bony growths or spurs that interfere with joint movement. In addition, bits of bone and cartilage may float in the joint space and fluid-filled cysts may form in the bone, limiting joint movement.

Several risk factors are associated with osteoarthritis, including the following:

  • heredity:
  • Slight joint defects or double-jointedness (laxity) and genetic defects may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.

  • obesity:
  • Excessive weight can put undue stress on such joints as the knees over time.

  • injury/overuse:
  • Significant injury to a joint, such as the knee, can later result in osteoarthritis. Injury may also result from repeated overuse or misuse over a period of time.
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What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain after overuse of a joint or prolonged inactivity of a joint. The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis include the hips, knees, fingers, feet, and spine. Symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop slowly over many years. The following are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis. However each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms may include:
  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness, especially after sleeping or inactivity
  • limited joint movement as the disease progresses
  • grating of joints when moved (in more advanced stages of osteoarthritis) as the cartilage wears away
  • back pain
  • numbness
  • weakness in an arm or leg (in more advanced stages)

The symptoms of osteoarthritis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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