What is Osteoarthritis?

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA),  you’re not alone. This chronic disease affects some 27 million Americans. OA is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage – the part of a joint that cushions the ends of the bones and allows easy movement. As cartilage deteriorates, bones begin to rub against one another. This can cause stiffness and pain that make it difficult for you to use that joint. Osteoarthritis can also damage ligaments, menisci and muscles. Over time OA may create a need for joint replacements.

There are two types of OA – primary and secondary. Primary osteoarthritis is generally associated with aging and the "wear and tear" of life. The older you are, the more likely you are to have some degree of primary osteoarthritis. However, not everyone gets it – not even the very old. That’s because OA is a disease, and not part of the normal aging process. Secondary osteoarthritis, in contrast, tends to develop relatively early in life, typically 10 or more years after a specific cause, such as an injury or obesity.

Osteoarthritis occurs most often in knees, hips and hands.  Other joints, particularly the shoulders, can also be affected. OA rarely affects other joints, except as a result of injury or unusual physical stress.

The pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis can make it difficult to do daily activities including your job, play sports or even get around with ease. That’s why it’s important to learn all you can about this disease, how it affects you and how to live with it – a process called self management.

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