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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Osteoarthritis - Topic Overview

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Osteoarthritis is a painful problem with the joints. Healthy joints help your body move, bend, and twist. Knees glide up and down stairs without creaking or crunching. Hips move you along on a walk without a complaint. But when you have arthritis, such simple, everyday movements can hurt. Using the stairs can be painful. Walking a few steps, opening a door, and even combing your hair can be hard.

Arthritis is mainly a disease of the spine, hip, hand, knee, and foot camera.gif. But it can happen in other joints too. A joint is where two bones connect. And you have them all over your body.

Arthritis is most common in older people. Even though you can't cure arthritis, there are many treatments that can help with your pain and make it easier for you to move. And you can do things to keep the damage from getting worse.

The simplest way to describe arthritis is that it's wear and tear on the cartilage of your joints. This cushioning tissue is firm, thick, and slippery. It covers and protects the ends of bones camera.gif where they meet to form a joint.

With arthritis, there are changes in the cartilage that cause it to break down. When it breaks down, the bones rub together and cause damage and pain. Experts don't know why this breakdown in cartilage happens. But aging, joint injury, being overweight, and genetics may be a part of the reason.

  • Pain. Your joints may ache, or the pain may feel burning or sharp.
  • Stiffness. Getting up in the morning can be hard. Your joints may feel stiff and creaky for a short time, until you get moving.
  • Muscle weakness. The muscles around the joint may get weaker. This happens a lot with arthritis in the knee.
  • Deformed joints. Joints can start to look like they are the wrong shape, especially as arthritis gets worse.
  • Reduced range of motion and loss of use of the joint. As your arthritis gets worse, you may not be able to fully bend, flex, or extend your joints. Or you may not be able to use them at all.
  • Cracking and creaking. Your joints may make crunching, creaking sounds.

Your doctor will check that your pain is not caused by another problem. He or she will ask questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • Is the pain burning, aching, or sharp?
  • Are your joints stiff in the morning? If yes, how long does the stiffness last?
  • Do you have any joint swelling?

If your joints are tender and swollen and the muscles are weak, this will also help your doctor confirm whether you have arthritis. You may also have X-rays to check your joints for damage. Your doctor may want to do blood tests or other tests to see if there are other causes for your pain.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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