Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint condition in the UK affecting approximately 8.5 million people. All races are affected, though there are differences between races in how commonly the different joints are affected – for example, hip and hand osteoarthritis are common in Europeans and people of European descent but uncommon in people of Chinese and Afro-Caribbean descent
‘Osteo’ means bone and ‘Arthritis’ means joint damage and swelling (inflammation). The term therefore refers to a progressive condition where the surface(s) of the joint are damaged and the surrounding bone and tissues grow thicker.
Osteoarthritis is also interchangable with the term osteoarthrosis. The latter refers to damage of a joint but does not make reference to the inflammation part of the condition.
OA is sometimes referred to as a ‘wear and tear’ condition. A more accurate term to describe the condition should be as a process of ‘wear and repair’. This is because the slow repair process that the body normally uses to repair damaged joint(s) can become ineffective over time. The repair process normally passes unnoticed, however if the body’s ability to repair itself is weakened then the damage to an affected joint(s) will continue and symptoms of arthritis are experienced.
There are 3 characteristics of OA:
The exact reasons why people develop OA aren’t fully understood. However, there are certain factors that may increase your risk. These include:
There are a number of symptoms associated with OA which vary from person to person:
Your GP will make the diagnosis dependent on the presentation of your symptoms. An x-ray will also confirm the diagnosis as this will show the integrity and quality of the bones. Osteoarthritis can be classified as primary or secondary depending whether there is or there is not an identifiable cause.
There is no cure for OA, however that are many treatments and self-help management techniques that can ease the symptoms. NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) 2008 recommends a holistic approach when managing the symptoms of OA. This means that all factors (psychological, psychosocial and physical) need to be considered when developing the best package of care for a patient with OA.