1. Your knees and hips may get "wear and tear." Cartilage covers your joints and lets them glide smoothly. Over time, it can wear away, particularly in the knee and hip joints. The result is that the bones of the joints rub against each other without enough cushioning. This is called osteoarthritis (OA).
2. The first sign you've got hip OA is often stiffness in your groin or thigh. You may also notice pain in your groin, thigh, or buttocks when you exercise. It may be worse in the mornings. If your OA is in the early stages, rest usually makes you feel better.
3. The first sign of knee OA is often pain and stiffness. Just like hip trouble, it usually aches more in the morning. You may find that your knee locks or buckles when you walk. Eventually it starts to hurt and you may have trouble flexing the joint. You may feel worse when you kneel or go up and down stairs.
4. You can relieve OA at home. Make sure you get enough rest. While it's important to stay active, give your joints time off when they hurt. You can also try acetaminophen (Tylenol) and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) if your doctor says these are safe for you. They provide fast relief for mild to moderate arthritis pain.
5. You can ease pain and stiffness if you lose weight. Being overweight puts extra stress on your knees and hips. Doctors say that every 10 pounds you lose can lower your arthritis pain by as much as 20%.
6. Exercise helps your joints work better. Keep limber and start with stretching. Try a "low-impact" workout like swimming or cycling. It will make your joints stronger and increase their range of motion. A physical therapist can show you exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your knees or hips. That will help reduce the stress on your joints during everyday activities, too.
7. OA of the knee or hip can make it hard for you to walk. If there isn't enough cartilage lining your joint, it can hurt when you take a stroll. Your joint may get so stiff that you can't bend your knee or rotate your hip. People with severe OA of the knee or hip may need a cane to get around.
8. Without treatment, OA usually gets worse. As the cartilage continues to wear away, your joint may get swollen and painful. In severe cases, bone rubs directly against bone, which makes it hurt a lot when you move. Even at this point, though, you can still take steps to slow the damage.
9. Joint replacement gets rid of pain. When other things don't provide enough relief, your doctor may recommend a hip or knee replacement. Your surgeon may replace all of the joint or part of it. After recovery, most people can walk more easily and are mostly pain-free.
10. Rehab is essential after joint replacement surgery. You'll need a program of vigorous exercises to get your new joint flexible and to strengthen the muscles around it. People who stick to the plan have the best range of motion, which means they are more likely to be able to resume the activities they used to do.