Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, impacts millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones gradually wears down and no longer protects your bones from rubbing together at your joints. This leads to pain and discomfort. Osteoarthritis usually affects the joints in the hands, knees, hips, spine, and other joints.
Joint damage caused by osteoarthritis cannot be reversed. However, it is possible to slow the progression of this disease and treat joint pain and discomfort.
A symptom flare-up may occur at any time or due to aggravating factors like changes in weather or exercise. These periods typically involve swelling, more severe pain, and stiffness, or decreased range of motion. Because of this, osteoarthritis can make it challenging to use the affected joints and even carry out daily activities.
An important distinction is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, even though they share similar symptoms. Osteoarthritis is due to damage from the “wear and tear” of your joints. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks and damages your joints.
Pathophysiology and Risk Factors
Osteoarthritis occurs due to the degradation of the cartilage that pads the ends of your bones in your joints. Your body naturally breaks down and regenerates tissues, including bone and cartilage, to maintain them. However, with use over time and aging changes, cartilage and bone are sometimes broken down faster than your body can rebuild them. This leads to a net loss of cartilage in the joints causing the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
As a disease that affects a large number of people, osteoarthritis can result from any number of combinations of risk factors:
- Age - Bones and joints become weaker and more vulnerable to wear and tear as you age.
- Gender - Women may be more likely to develop this condition due to hormonal differences affecting bone density.
- Weight - Extra weight puts greater pressure on your joints, increasing wear.
- Joint injuries - Physical damage to a joint can permanently alter the bones and cartilage in negative ways.
- Genetics - If osteoarthritis affects other members of your family, you may be at an increased risk.
- Bone deformities - A small number of people are born with cartilage and bone deformities that may predispose their joints to faster degradation.