National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
What Areas Does Osteoarthritis Affect?
Osteoarthritis most often occurs in the hands (at the ends of the fingers
and thumbs), spine (neck and lower back), knees, and hips.
How Does Osteoarthritis Affect People?
People with osteoarthritis usually experience joint pain and
stiffness. The most commonly affected joints are those at the ends of the
fingers (closest to the nail), thumbs, neck, lower back, knees, and hips.
Osteoarthritis affects different people differently. Although
in some people it progresses quickly, in most individuals joint damage develops
gradually over years. In some people, osteoarthritis is relatively mild and
interferes little with day-to-day-life; in others, it causes significant pain
While osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints, its effects
are not just physical. In many people with osteoarthritis, lifestyle and
finances also decline.
Lifestyle effects include
- feelings of helplessness
- limitations on daily activities
- job limitations
- difficulty participating in everyday personal and family joys and
Financial effects include
- the cost of treatment
- wages lost because of disability.
Fortunately, most people with osteoarthritis live active,
productive lives despite these limitations. They do so by using treatment
strategies such rest and exercise, pain relief medications, education and
support programs, learning self-care, and having a “good attitude.”
Osteoarthritis Basics: The Joint and Its Parts
A joint is the point where two or more bones are connected.
With a few exceptions (in the skull and pelvis, for example), joints are
designed to allow movement between the bones and to absorb shock from movements
like walking or repetitive motions. These movable joints are made up of the
Cartilage: a hard but slippery coating on the
end of each bone. Cartilage, which breaks down and wears away in
osteoarthritis, is described in more detail on the next page.
Joint capsule: a tough membrane sac that
encloses all the bones and other joint parts.
Synovium (sin-O-vee-um): a thin membrane
inside the joint capsule that secretes synovial fluid.
Synovial fluid: a fluid that lubricates the
joint and keeps the cartilage smooth and healthy.
A Healthy Joint
In a healthy joint, the ends of bones are encased in smooth
cartilage. Together, they are protected by a joint capsule lined with a
synovial membrane that produces synovial fluid. The capsule and fluid protect
the cartilage, muscles, and connective tissues.