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Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a chronic condition that primarily affects the joints. It is characterized by the breakdown and gradual loss of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones within the joints. As the cartilage deteriorates, the bones may rub against each other, leading to pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility.

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, but it most commonly affects weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, and spine, as well as joints in the hands and fingers. The exact cause of osteoarthritis is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and mechanical factors.

Risk factors for developing osteoarthritis include advancing age, obesity, joint injuries, repetitive stress on the joints, certain occupations that involve repetitive movements or heavy lifting, and underlying joint abnormalities or diseases. Women and individuals with a family history of osteoarthritis are also more susceptible to the condition.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary from person to person, but common signs and symptoms include:

  1. Joint pain: Pain in the affected joint(s) is a hallmark symptom of osteoarthritis. The pain is often described as aching or throbbing and may worsen with activity or after prolonged periods of rest.
  2. Stiffness: Joint stiffness, especially after periods of inactivity, is a common complaint. Morning stiffness lasting for a short duration is a characteristic feature of osteoarthritis.
  3. Reduced range of motion: As the disease progresses, the affected joint may lose its flexibility and range of motion. This can make simple movements, such as bending or straightening the knee, difficult or painful.
  4. Swelling and tenderness: In some cases, the affected joint may appear swollen, and the surrounding tissues may feel tender to the touch.
  5. Grating or crackling sensation: A sensation of grating, crackling, or bone-on-bone rubbing within the joint may be experienced during movement.

Diagnosing osteoarthritis typically involves a combination of a thorough medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests. X-rays may be used to visualize the joint and assess the degree of cartilage loss, the presence of bone spurs (osteophytes), and any joint deformities.

While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, treatment focuses on managing symptoms, improving joint function, and enhancing overall quality of life. Treatment options for osteoarthritis include:

  1. Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight through proper nutrition and regular exercise is crucial for reducing stress on the joints. Physical activity can help improve joint flexibility, strengthen the muscles supporting the joints, and alleviate pain.
  2. Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may be recommended to manage pain and inflammation. Topical creams or gels containing NSAIDs or capsaicin can also provide relief. In severe cases, prescription medications, including stronger pain relievers or corticosteroid injections, may be prescribed.
  3. Physical therapy: A physical therapist can develop an individualized exercise program to strengthen the muscles around the affected joint, improve range of motion, and enhance joint stability. They may also incorporate modalities like heat or cold therapy and provide advice on joint protection techniques.
  4. Assistive devices: The use of assistive devices, such as canes, crutches, or braces, can help support the affected joint and improve mobility.
  5. Surgery: In advanced cases where conservative measures are ineffective, surgical options may be considered. Joint replacement surgery, such as total knee or hip replacement, can be highly effective in relieving pain and restoring joint function.

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