What Is Osteoarthritis?

View as:|
1 of 7

A common affliction

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and one of the most common causes of physical disability in adults. An estimated 27 million people in the United States have the condition.

A joint disease

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, involves a progressive breakdown of cartilage and other joint tissues.

Damage to cartilage

It starts with softening of the smooth cartilage surface, which then becomes pitted and frayed. Unlike most of the body’s tissues, which are able to regrow when damaged, cartilage has a very limited blood supply, which hampers its ability to repair itself.

Wear and tear

Over time, sections of cartilage start to break down faster than they are repaired and, eventually, they wear away completely. Without this cushion, the bones rub together, making movement difficult and painful.

Bone spurs

The friction can also cause bony outgrowths called osteophytes, or “spurs,” which can add to the discomfort.

Affected joints

Osteoarthritis occurs most often in the knees, hips, spine, small joints of the fingers, and base of the thumb and big toe, although it can affect any joint.

Some good news

Osteoarthritis generally has little or no effect on longevity. In other words, it won’t shorten your life.