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Arthritis is a common condition that affects more than 50 million US adults. It’s also the leading cause of work disability in the United States.1

What is Arthritis?

The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness. Depending on the type of arthritis, you may also experience:3

  • Swelling
  • Redness on your skin around the joint
  • Decreased range of motion

These symptoms can stay the same or get worse over time.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis that affect different parts of your body. One of the most common types of arthritis is osteoarthritis.3


Osteoarthritis (OA), or “wear and tear” arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. It can affect any joints in your body, but it mostly affects your hands, knees, hips, and spine.

What Causes OA?

As you get older, the tissues that cushion and protect the ends of your bones, called the cartilage, gradually wear away. When this happens, bones will grind on other bones in a joint, causing pain and stiffness when you move and bend the joints. Over time, OA can damage and even destroy entire joints.

OA develops slowly over many years. It most commonly occurs during middle age and affects women more than men.4

Who are At Risk of Having OA?

Several factors can increase your risk of having OA, including:4,5

  • Old age
  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop OA than men.
  • Joint injury or infection
  • Overuse, such as a job or sport that requires repetitive motion of your joints
  • Obesity
  • Genetic factors
  • Born with bone deformities or defective cartilage
  • Certain metabolic diseases such as diabetes
What are the Symptoms of OA?

Symptoms of OA tend to develop slowly and worsen over time. People with OA may experience:4,5

  • Pain in the joint during or after movement
  • Joint stiffness, particularly right after you wake up or after resting
  • Limited range of motion that may go away after movement
  • Clicking or cracking sound when you bend your joint
  • Hard lumps consisting of extra bits of bones (bone spurs) around your joint
  • Swelling around your joint
  • Joint instability or buckling

If you have joint pain or stiffness that doesn’t go away, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

What are the Treatment Options for OA?

Although there is no cure for OA, certain lifestyle changes, as well as certain treatments can reduce the pain and improve your movement. Treatments for OA include medications, physical therapies, or injections into the joint and surgery.

What Can You Personally Do If You Have OA?

Certain healthy habits may slow down OA and delay the need for surgery as long as possible.4 Here are examples of lifestyle changes and things you can do:4,5

  • Low-impact exercise such as walking or bicycling. Make sure to warm up and cool down when exercising.
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Movement therapies such as yoga or tai chi
  • Use braces, shoe inserts, or assistive devices (cane, grabbing tools) to support and relieve stress on your joints

There are different types of medicines that can reduce pain and swelling in OA:4,5

  • Pain relievers (oral analgesics)
    These are medicines that help relieve mild to moderate pain. They are typically available without prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
    These medicines can reduce pain and inflammation. Some of them are available OTC for pain relief, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Stronger types of NSAIDs are available with a doctor’s prescription.
  • Topical Analgesics
    These medicines contain ingredients like capsaicin, menthol and methyl salicylate and are applied topically. They are available in creams, lotions, gels, liquids and patches.
  • Examples of Rx drugs: Oral corticosteroids, like prednisone, are often prescribed to reduce the inflammation in severe forms of OA and other analgesics and biologic compounds may be prescribed based on the severity of the condition to improve functionality and quality of life.

When you have OA, your doctor may recommend you to undergo therapy to improve your joint movement.5

  • Physical therapy
    This therapy includes exercises with a physical therapist. These exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles around your joint, increase your flexibility, and reduce pain. You can also do your own exercise, such as swimming or walking.
  • Occupational therapy
    In this therapy, an occupational therapist works with you to discover ways to do everyday tasks while reducing the stress to your painful joint. For example, using a toothbrush with a large grip can help reduce pain in your hands when brushing your teeth.
Surgery and Other Invasive Procedures

If none of the conservative treatments works, you may need a more advanced procedure such as:4,5

  • Cortisone injections
    Your doctor can give you a corticosteroid injection directly to your joint (mostly in the knee) to relieve the pain. This injection can only be done up to three or four times per year.
  • Lubrication injections
    Your doctor may also give you a hyaluronic acid injection. Hyaluronic acid is a gel-like substance that can provide cushion to your joint and may relieve the pain.
  • Realigning bones
    When OA damages one side of your knees more than the other, the bones that form your knee joint may need to be adjusted. In this procedure, a surgeon cuts the bone above or below your knee, then removes or adds a wedge of bone to align your knees.
  • Joint replacement surgery
    If your joint is badly damaged, you may need to have it replaced (total joint replacement) with artificial joints made of plastic and metals. Your surgeon can decide the best procedure based on your joint conditions.

Talk to your doctor to find out which lifestyle change or treatment is best for you.

Our website content is made available solely for general information purposes. We do not provide medical advice or diagnosis.

  1. Arthritis – National Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 7, 2018. Accessed April 10, 2020.
  2. What is Arthritis? Arhtritis Foundation. Accessed April 10, 2020.
  3. Arthritis. Mayo Clinic. Accessed April 10, 2020.
  4. Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Foundation. Accessed April 12, 2020.
  5. Osteoarthritis. Mayo Clinic. Accessed April 12, 2020.


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