Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that causes pain in the joints, typically affecting the knees, hips or hands.

  1. Can cause pain, stiffness and limited movement
  2. Result of damaged cartilage between joints
  3. Pain usually managed with NSAIDs

People experiencing pain in the joints who want to speak to a doctor online can do so through our consultation platform. We work with GMC-registered practitioners, who can provide guidance on managing symptoms and recommend treatment where required.

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What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a joint disorder that can affect anyone, although it’s more common amongst older people. It causes pain and stiffness that becomes worse with movement. It occurs when the normal process of regenerating cartilage and bone between uses doesn’t work as well as it should, and this leads to inflammation and other symptoms (described above).

The condition may not cause noticeable symptoms to begin with. Someone may only experience pain and inflammation when the condition has reached an advanced stage (if the joint can’t repair itself properly in light of an injury, or if the joint has been subjected to severe strain).

What types of osteoarthritis are there?

There are two different types of osteoarthritis that can occur. Primary osteoarthritis affects the joints of people aged 50 and over, who have previously had healthy joints and no conditions associated with joint pain. Secondary osteoarthritis is when someone has already had joint problems due to another condition.

Osteoarthritis can have an impact on your ability to perform everyday activities, and this may also have a negative psychological effect. If both pharmacological and nonpharmacological therapies have not worked, someone may be referred to an orthopedic specialist, who can discuss the possibility of surgery or joint replacement. 

Osteoarthritis in the hand may impair someone’s ability to grip objects, leading to problems with activities such as writing, lifting, opening doors and jars, and turning keys. If osteoarthritis is in the hip, activities such as walking and climbing stairs can be very painful. Rarer complications include joint deformity, where growths on the bones and loss of cartilage cause the joints to deform, and gout, where crystals develop inside the joints.

How common is osteoarthritis?

Around 1 in 10 people aged 65 and over have a disability due to osteoarthritis. It’s very common in the UK, with around 8.5 million people living with the condition. 

Osteoarthritis can be a painful and uncomfortable condition to have, but it’s not something that has to be accepted as simply part of the ageing process; there are measures that can be taken to alleviate the pain. Our UK doctors are available to talk to, should you wish to seek advice through our online video consultation service.

Page last reviewed:  15/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

What are the causes of osteoarthritis?

The joints and cartilage sustain a small amount of damage through daily movement, and the body works to repair this damage regularly. However, in cases of osteoarthritis, this healing process doesn’t take place, and the joints become more and more damaged. This leads to pain and inflammation.  

It’s not known exactly why some people get osteoarthritis, but risk factors include age, alcohol consumption, obesity, and having had a previous injury.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis can usually be diagnosed through a combination of identifying symptoms and x-rays. 

The symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain with stiffness, and occasional swelling. The areas most commonly affected are the knees, hips, hands and spinal areas. Joint pain tends to be more prominent in the morning, and also while performing any weight-bearing activity.

A doctor may assess a person’s weight and BMI, as knee and hip osteoarthritis are common in people who are overweight.

Will I need tests?

A clinician will most likely request an x-ray of the affected joint in order to confirm a diagnosis, and rule out the possibility of other conditions.

How is osteoarthritis managed?

Although there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, there are ways you can manage symptoms. A doctor will suggest measures you can take to help improve mobility, reduce pain and limit further damage to the joints. For example, two lifestyle measures that may help are losing weight and low impact exercise, such as walking and swimming. 

In terms of non-pharmacological therapies, wearing specially-made shoe soles and treatment from a physiotherapist may help.

Anti-inflammatory painkillers can alleviate discomfort during a flare-up. These work by preventing the release of chemicals in the body which cause inflammation, thereby reducing pain.

Page last reviewed:  15/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is osteoarthritis treated?

Osteoarthritis does not have a cure, but treatment can relieve symptoms. A doctor may advise losing weight if you’re overweight, and recommend strengthening exercises.

Wearing appropriate footwear, if the issue is in the ankle or knee, may also be recommended. 

Pain medicine can help to alleviate discomfort during a flare-up and reduce inflammation.

How long will it take for me to recover?

While the condition can be managed, it tends to be long term, and will require ongoing care to stop it from progressing further. People who develop osteoarthritis in the hip or knee may need replacement surgery after several years, so they’ll usually need to have their symptoms monitored regularly. 

Can I consult a doctor about osteoarthritis online?

Our online consultation service is available if you would like to speak to a doctor about osteoarthritis. They can offer advice about what you can do to manage your symptoms, prescribe treatment where appropriate, and refer you to a physiotherapist for further treatment where required.

Page last reviewed:  15/06/2020

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