Arthritis is a general term that means inflammation in joints. Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body. It most commonly occurs in the weight bearing joints of the hips, knees, and spine. It can also affect the fingers, thumb, neck, and large toe. It is not typically common in other joints unless prior injury or excessive stress is involved.
Who Gets Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis affects nearly 27 million Americans. The chance of developing the disease increases with age. Most people over age 60 have osteoarthritis to some degree, but its severity varies. Even people in their 20s and 30s can get osteoarthritis. In people over 50, more women than men get osteoarthritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
- Joint aching and soreness, especially with movement
- Pain and/or stiffness after overuse or after long periods of inactivity
- Bony enlargements in the middle and end joints of the fingers (which may or may not be painful)
Osteoarthritis is not associated with fever, weight loss, or anemia (low red-blood cell count). If these symptoms are present in someone with osteoarthritis, they are caused by a condition unrelated to the osteoarthritis.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
There are several factors that increase the risk for developing osteoarthritis, including heredity, obesity, injury, or overuse of certain joints.
People born with joint abnormalities are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Some people have an inherited defect in one of the genes responsible for making collagen, a major component of cartilage. This causes defective cartilage, which leads to more rapid deterioration of joints.
Finally, people who are born with an abnormality of the spine (such as scoliosis or curvature of the spine) are more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the spine.
Obesity increases the risk for osteoarthritis. Maintaining ideal weight or losing excess weight may help prevent osteoarthritis, or decrease the rate of progression once osteoarthritis is established.
Injuries contribute to the development of osteoarthritis. For example, athletes who have knee-related injuries may be at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee. In addition, people who have had a severe back injury may be predisposed to develop osteoarthritis of the spine. People who have had a broken bone extending into the joint margin are prone to develop osteoarthritis in that joint.
Overuse of certain joints increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis. For example, jobs requiring repeated knee bending increase the risk for osteoarthritis of the knee.