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National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

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What Areas Does Osteoarthritis Affect?

Osteoarthritis Outline

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 and disability.

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

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • feelings of helplessness
  • limitations on daily activities
  • job limitations
  • difficulty participating in everyday personal and family joys and responsibilities.

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 following parts:

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

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.

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