Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disorder, which is due to aging and wear and tear on a joint.

Alternative Names

Hypertrophic osteoarthritis; Osteoarthrosis; Degenerative joint disease; DJD; OA; Arthritis - osteoarthritis


Osteoarthritis is a normal result of aging. It is also caused by 'wear and tear' on a joint.

Often, the cause of OA is unknown. It is mainly related to aging.

The symptoms of OA usually appear in middle age. Almost everyone has some symptoms by age 70. However, these symptoms may be minor.

Before age 55, OA occurs equally in men and women. After age 55, it is more common in women.

Other factors can also lead to OA.

Medical conditions that can lead to OA include:


Watch this video about:


Pain and stiffness in the joints are the most common symptoms. The pain is often worse after exercise and when you put weight or pressure on the joint.

If you have osteoarthritis, your joints probably become stiffer and harder to move over time. You may notice a rubbing, grating, or crackling sound when you move the joint.

The phrase "morning stiffness" refers to the pain and stiffness you may feel when you first wake up in the morning. Stiffness usually lasts for 30 minutes or less. It is improved by mild activity that "warms up" the joint.

During the day, the pain may get worse when you're active and feel better when you are resting. After a while, the pain may be present when you are resting. It may even wake you up at night.

Some people might not have symptoms, even though x-rays show the changes of OA.

Exams and Tests

A physical exam can show:

No blood tests are helpful in diagnosing OA.

An x-ray of affected joints will show a loss of the joint space. In advanced cases, there will be a wearing down of the ends of the bone and bone spurs.


OA cannot be cured. It will most likely get worse over time. However, your OA symptoms can be controlled.

You can have surgery, but other treatments can improve your pain and make your life much better. Although these treatments cannot make the arthritis go away, they can often delay surgery.


Over-the-counter pain relievers, which you can buy without a prescription, can help with OA symptoms. Most doctors recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) first, because it has fewer side effects than other drugs. If your pain continues, your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Types of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

Other medications or supplements that you may use include:


Staying active and getting exercise helps maintain joint and overall movement. Ask your health care provider to recommend an appropriate home exercise routine. Water exercises, such as swimming, are especially helpful.

Other lifestyle recommendations include:

As the pain from your OA becomes worse, keeping up with everyday activities may become more difficult or painful.


Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength and the motion of stiff joints, as well as your sense of balance. Therapists have many techniques for treating OA. If therapy does not make you feel better after 6 - 8 weeks, then it likely will not work at all.

Massage therapy may also help provide short-term pain relief. Make sure you work with an experienced massage therapist who understands how to work with sensitive joint areas.


Splints and braces can sometimes support weakened joints. Some prevent the joint from moving; others allow some movement. You should use a brace only when your doctor or therapist recommends one. Using a brace the wrong way can cause joint damage, stiffness, and pain.


Acupuncture is a treatment based on Chinese medicine. How it works is not entirely clear. Some studies have found that acupuncture may provide short-term pain relief for people with OA.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe, pronounced "Sammy") is a man-made form of a natural byproduct of the amino acid methionine. It has been marketed as a remedy for arthritis, but scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking.


Severe cases of OA might need surgery to replace or repair damaged joints. Surgical options include:

Support Groups

For more information and support, see arthritis resources.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Every person with OA is different. Pain and stiffness may prevent one person from performing simple daily activities, while others are able to maintain an active lifestyle that includes sports and other activities.

Your movement may become very limited over time. Doing everyday activities, such as personal hygiene, household chores, or cooking may become a challenge. Treatment usually improves function.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of OA that get worse.


Try not to overuse a painful joint at work or during activities.


Gregory PJ, Sperry M, Wilson AF. Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77:177-184.

Hunter DJ. In the clinic: Osteoarthritis. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(3):ITC8-1-ITC8-16.

Hunter DJ, Lo GH. The management of osteoarthritis: an overview and call to appropriate conservative treatment. Med Clin North Am. 2009;93:127-43, xi.

Richmond J, Hunter D, Irrgang J, et al. Treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee (nonarthroplasty). J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2009;17:591-6000.

Bijlsma JW, Berenbaum F, Lafeber FP. Osteoarthritis: an update with relevance for clinical practice. Lancet. 2011;377:2115-2126.

Review Date: 9/26/2011
Reviewed By: Ariel D. Teitel, MD, MBA, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.