What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a chronic degenerative joint disease that affects mostly middle-aged and older adults. Osteoarthritis causes the breakdown of joint cartilage. It can occur in any joint, but it most often affects the hands, knees, hips, or spine.

What causes osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary osteoarthritis has no known cause. Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by another disease, infection, injury, or deformity. Osteoarthritis starts with the breakdown of cartilage in the joint. As the cartilage wears down, the bone ends may thicken and form bony growths (spurs). Bone spurs interfere with joint movement. Bits of bone and cartilage may float in the joint space. Fluid-filled cysts may form in the bone and limit joint movement.

Who is at risk for osteoarthritis?

The risk factors of osteoarthritis include:

  • Heredity. Slight joint defects or double-jointedness (laxity) and genetic defects may contribute to osteoarthritis.
  • Excess weight. Being overweight or obese can put stress on such joints as the knees over time.
  • Injury or overuse. Severe injury to a joint, such as the knee, can lead to osteoarthritis. Injury may also result from overuse or misuse over time.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain after overuse or inactivity of a joint. Symptoms usually develop slowly over years. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person, and may include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness, especially after sleep or inactivity
  • Less movement in the joint over time
  • A grinding feeling of the joint when moved, as the cartilage wears away (in more advanced stages)

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can look like other health conditions. Make sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

The process starts with a medical history and a physical exam. You may also have X-rays. This test uses a small amount of radiation to create images of bone and other body tissues.

How is osteoarthritis treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. The goal of treatment is to reduce joint pain and stiffness, and improve joint movement. Treatment may include:

  • Exercise. Regular exercise, including stretching and strengthening, may help reduce pain and other symptoms.
  • Heat treatment. Treating the affected joint with heat may help reduce pain.
  • Physical and occupational therapy. These types of therapy may help to reduce joint pain, improve joint flexibility, and reduce joint strain. Splints and other assistive devices may also be used.
  • Weight maintenance. Keeping a healthy weight or losing weight if needed may help to prevent or reduce symptoms.
  • Medicines. These may include pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicines. Either may be taken by mouth as a pill, or rubbed on the skin as a cream.
  • Injections of thick liquids into the joints. These liquids mimic normal joint fluid.
  • Joint surgery. Surgery may be needed to repair or replace a severely damaged joint.

Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.

What are the complications of osteoarthritis?

Because osteoarthritis causes joints to degenerate over time, it can cause disability. It can cause pain and movement problems that make a person less able to do normal daily activities and tasks.

Living with osteoarthritis

Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, it is important to help keep joints functioning by reducing pain and inflammation. Work on a treatment plan with your healthcare provider that includes medicine and therapy. Work on lifestyle changes that can improve your quality of life. Lifestyle changes include:

  • Weight loss. Extra weight puts more stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees.
  • Exercise. Some exercises may help reduce joint pain and stiffness. These include swimming, walking, low-impact aerobic exercise, and range-of-motion exercises. Stretching exercises may also help keep the joints flexible.
  • Activity and rest. To reduce stress on your joints, alternate between activity and rest. This can help protect your joints and lessen your symptoms.
  • Using assistive devices. Canes, crutches, and walkers can help to keep stress off certain joints and improve balance.
  • Using adaptive equipment. Reachers and grabbers allow people to extend their reach and reduce straining. Dressing aids help people get dressed more easily.
  • Managing use of medicines. Long-term use of some anti-inflammatory medicines can lead to stomach bleeding. Work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan to reduce this risk.

When should I call my health care provider?

If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know.

Key points about osteoarthritis

  • Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disease. It affects mostly middle-aged and older adults.
  • It starts with the breakdown of joint cartilage.
  • Risk factors include heredity, obesity, injury, and overuse.
  • Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, and limited movement of joints.
  • The goals of treatment are to reduce joint pain and stiffness, and improve joint movement.
  • Treatment may include medicines, exercise, heat, and joint injections.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair or replace a severely damaged joint.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Fly Through Airport Security with Your New Joint

Fly Through Airport Security with Your New Joint

You’ve recovered from joint replacement surgery. You are ready for a relaxing vacation. But certain types of joint implants can set off airport security alarms. It’s best to expect security screening to discover implants. Here’s what you need to know to make your trip through security a smooth one.

Advise security officers of your implant
Tell the security officers about your joint replacement when you get near the security area. Let them know where your implant is located. A security officer will offer you a private screening that could include screening with a hand-held wand and a pat-down inspection. You will not need to show your surgical scar or remove any clothing. Feel free to ask to be screened in a private area if this is not offered.

Carry a joint replacement ID
Although few people are asked for proof of their surgery, your orthopedic surgeon can provide a card that confirms you have an artificial joint. These cards identify the holder of the card as having a joint replacement. They also state that the implant may set off metal-detection devices. Keep your joint replacement card with you when you travel in case you need to present proof of your implant.

If you have any questions or concerns about airport security screening, call the Transportation Security Administration at 866-289-9673 or visit the website.

Sports-Related Injuries

Sports-Related Injuries

Most sports injuries are due to either trauma or overuse of muscles or joints. The majority are caused by minor trauma involving muscles, ligaments, tendons, or bones, including:

  • Contusions (bruises)
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations

What is a contusion?

A contusion (bruise) is an injury to the soft tissue. It is often caused by blunt force such as a kick, fall, or blow. The immediate result will be pain, swelling, and discoloration.

What is a sprain?

A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments are flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to bones, and bones to cartilage. They also hold together the bones in your joints. Sprains often affect the ankles, knees, or wrists.

What is a strain?

A strain is twist, pull or tear of a muscle or tendon, and is often caused by overuse, force, or stretching. A tendon is a tough cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones.

Some examples of strains are:

  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is characterized by pain in the back side of the elbow and forearm, along the thumb side when the arm is alongside the body with the thumb turned away. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist backward away from the palm.
  • Golfer’s or baseball elbow (medial epicondylitis). Medial epicondylitis, also known as golfer’s elbow, is characterized by pain from the elbow to the wrist on the palm side of the forearm. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.
  • Lumbar strain. A lumbar strain is an injury to the lower back, which results in damaged tendons and muscles that spasm and feel sore. Trauma of great force can injure the tendons and muscles in the lower back. Pushing and pulling sports, such as weight lifting or football, can lead to a lumbar strain. In addition, sports that need sudden twisting of the lower back, such as basketball, baseball, and golf can lead to this injury.
  • Jumper’s knee. Jumper’s knee, also known as patellar tendonitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation of the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to shin bone (tibia). The condition may be caused by overuse of the knee joint, such as frequent jumping on hard surfaces.
  • Runner’s knee. Runner’s knee, also known as patellofemoral stress syndrome, is when the patella, or kneecap, does not move well in the groove of the femur (thigh bone). Runner’s knee may be caused by a structural defect, or a certain way of walking or running.

What is a fracture?

Fractures are breaks in the bone that are often caused by a blow or a fall. A fracture can range from a simple hairline fracture (a thin fracture that may not run through the entire bone) to a compound fracture, in which the broken bone protrudes through the skin. Most fractures happen in the arms and legs.

Stress fractures are weak spots or small cracks in the bone caused by continuous overuse. Stress fractures often happen in the foot or leg after training for gymnastics, running, and other sports. The bones in the midfoot (metatarsals) in runners are especially vulnerable to stress fractures.

What is a dislocation?

A dislocation happens when extreme force is put on a ligament, allowing the ends of two connected bones to separate. Stress on joint ligaments can lead to dislocation of the joint.

Rehabilitation for sports injuries

A rehabilitation program for sports injuries is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending on the type and severity of the injury. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program.

The goal of rehabilitation after an amputation is to help the patient return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life–physically, emotionally, and socially.

In order to help reach these goals, sports injury rehabilitation programs may include the following:

  • Activity restrictions
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Exercise programs to stretch and strengthen the area
  • Conditioning exercises to help prevent further injury
  • Heat or cold applications and whirlpool treatments
  • Applications of braces, splints, or casts to immobilize the area
  • Use of crutches or wheelchairs
  • Pain management techniques
  • Patient and family education

The sports injury rehabilitation team

Rehabilitation programs for sports injuries are usually conducted on an outpatient basis. Many skilled professionals are part of the sports injury rehabilitation team, including any or all of the following:

  • Orthopedist/orthopedic surgeon
  • Physiatrist
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Exercise physiologist
  • Sports medicine specialist
  • Athletic trainer

Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses For Pain

Photo of young woman holding an ice pack to her shin

It can sometimes be confusing whether to use heat or cold when treating sore muscles or an injury, but keep these facts in mind.


  • Brings more blood to the area where it is applied.
  • Reduces joint stiffness and muscle spasm, which makes it useful when muscles are tight.
  • Should NOT be used for the first 48 hours following and injury.

Types of warm packs or pads

Warm towel

  1. Dampen a towel with warm (not scalding) water.
  2. Apply to the affected area to relieve muscle spasm.

Heating pad
Be sure to protect any type of heating pad device from coming in direct contact with the skin. Precautions should be taken to avoid burns, especially if you have nerve damage, such as from diabetes or other conditions.

When muscles work, chemical byproducts are produced that need to be eliminated. When exercise is very intense, there may not be enough blood flow to eliminate all the chemicals. It is the buildup of chemicals (for example, lactic acid) that cause muscle ache. Because the blood supply helps eliminate these chemicals, use heat to help sore muscles after exercise.


  • Relieves pain by numbing the affected area.
  • Reduces swelling and inflammation.
  • Reduces bleeding.

Types of cold packs

Ice towel

  1. Dampen a towel with cold water.
  2. Fold it and place it in a plastic, sealable bag.
  3. Place the bag in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from freezer and place it on the affected area.

Ice pack or cold compress

  1. Put ice in a plastic, sealable bag.
  2. Fill partially with water.
  3. Seal the bag, squeezing the air out of it.
  4. Wrap the bag in a damp towel and apply to the affected area.

When an injury or inflammation, such as tendonitis or bursitis occurs, tissues are damaged. Cold numbs the affected area, which can reduce pain and tenderness. Cold can also reduce swelling and inflammation.