Health Topic Archives

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that mostly affects cartilage. Cartilage is the
slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Healthy cartilage allows
bones to glide over each other. It also helps absorb the shock of movement. In
osteoarthritis, the top layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away. This allows
bones under the cartilage to rub together. The rubbing causes pain, swelling, and
loss of motion of the joint. Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape. Also,
bone spurs may grow on the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break
off and float inside the joint space, which causes more pain and damage.

People with osteoarthritis often have joint pain and reduced motion. Unlike some
other forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only joints and not internal organs.
Rheumatoid arthritis—the second most common form of arthritis—affects other
parts of the body besides the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of

Who Gets Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis occurs most often in older people. Younger people sometimes get
osteoarthritis, primarily from joint injuries.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis usually happens gradually over time. Some risk factors that might
lead to it include:

How Is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint. It occurs most often in the hands, knees, hips,
and spine. Warning signs of osteoarthritis are:

No single test can diagnose osteoarthritis. Most doctors use several methods to diagnose the
disease and rule out other problems:

How Is Osteoarthritis Treated?

Doctors often combine treatments to fit a patient's needs, lifestyle, and health. Osteoarthritis
treatment has four main goals:

Osteoarthritis treatment plans can involve:

How Can Self-Care and a "Good-Health Attitude" Help?

Three kinds of programs help people learn about osteoarthritis and self-care and improve their good-health attitude:

These programs teach people about osteoarthritis and its treatments. They also have clear and long-lasting benefits. People in these programs learn to:

People with osteoarthritis find that self-management programs help them:

People with a good-health attitude:

For More Information About Osteoarthritis and Other Related Conditions:

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
Information Clearinghouse
National Institutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892–3675
Phone: 301–495–4484
Toll free: 877–22–NIAMS (226–4267)
TTY: 301–565–2966
Fax: 301–718–6366

Fact Sheet by National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)


"It takes more energy to be reactive than it does to be proactive."