Arthritis is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It develops as the cartilage protecting the bones of a joint wears down over time. Over the years, as stress is put on the joints, cartilage wears thin and sometimes even erodes completely, resulting in stiffness and pain. It occurs more frequently in older individuals, however it sometimes develops in athletes from overuse of a joint or after an injury. It commonly affects the fingers, knees, lower back and hips, and is often treated with medication, specific exercises, and physical therapy. In severe cases, joint replacement surgery may be suggested. Osteoarthritis tends to get worse over time.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of osteoarthritis often develop slowly and progress over time. Common symptoms of osteoarthritis affect the joints and may include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Loss of flexibility

Arthritic joints sometimes create a grating sensation or clicking sound when they are used. Bone spurs, which are also painful and interfere with movement, may develop from the friction created by the bones rubbing together from osteoarthritis.

Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

To accurately diagnose osteoarthritis, a thorough physical examination is performed to evaluate pain level, muscle weakness, range of motion, and any possible involvement of other joints. A complete medical history that assesses family history and past injuries is taken. If the physical examination indicates osteoarthritis, other diagnostic tests may be performed, including:

  • X-rays
  • MRI scan
  • Blood tests to screen for other diseases
  • Analysis of fluid that lubricates the joint

The doctor may use a needle to extract fluid out of an affected joint. The fluid is then tested to determine the cause of inflammation and pain.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is commonly treated with a combination of methods. Medication may be used to treat pain and may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Acetaminophen
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Corticosteroid injections

Physical therapy may be a successful form of treatment for some patients. Avoiding certain physical activities that place stress on the joints may also be helpful. Severe cases of osteoarthritis may require surgery to smooth irregular tissue surfaces, or to reposition or replace joints through arthroscopy.

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