Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes joints to become painful and stiff. It's the most common type of Arthritis in the UK.

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Living with osteoarthritis


Symptoms of osteoarthritis

The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain andstiffness. Some people also experience swelling, tenderness and a grating or crackling sound when moving the affected joints.

The severity of osteoarthritis symptoms canvary greatly from person to person, and between different affected joints.

For some people, the symptomscan be mild and may come and go. Other peoplecan experience more continuous and severe problemswhich make it difficult to carry out everyday activities.

Almost any joint can be affected by osteoarthritis, but the condition most often causes problems in theknees, hips and small joints of the hands.

You should see your GP if you have persistent symptoms of osteoarthritis so they can confirm the diagnosis and prescribe any necessary treatment.

In most cases, your body repairs the damage itself and you don't experience any symptoms.

But in osteoarthritis, the protectivecartilage on the ends of your bonesbreaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. Bony growths candevelop, and the areacan become inflamed (red and swollen).

The exact cause isn't known, but several things are thought to increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis, including:

  • joint injury overusing your joint when it hasn't had enough time to heal after an injury or operation
  • other conditions (secondary arthritis) osteoarthritis can occur in joints severely damaged by a previous or existing condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout
  • age your risk of developing the condition increases as you get older
  • family history osteoarthritis may run in families, although studies haven't identified a single gene responsible
  • obesity being obese puts excess strain on your joints, particularly those that bear most of your weight, such as your knees and hips

Diagnosing osteoarthritis

To help determine whether you have osteoarthritis, your GP will first ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints.

Your GP may suspect osteoarthritis if:

  • you're aged50 or older
  • you have joint pain that gets worse the more you use your joints
  • you have stiffness in your joints in the morning that lasts lessthan 30 minutes, or no stiffness at all

If your symptoms are slightly different from those listed above, this may indicate another joint condition. For example, prolonged joint stiffness in the morning can be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis .

Further tests such as X-rays or blood tests aren't usually necessary, but may be used to rule out other possible causes, such as rheumatoid arthritis or a fractured bone.


Osteoarthritis is a long-term condition and can't be cured, but it doesn't necessarily get any worse over time and it can sometimes gradually improve. A number of treatments are also available to reduce the symptoms.

Mild symptoms can sometimes be managed with simple measures including:

  • regular exercise
  • losing weight if you're overweight
  • wearing suitable footwear
  • using special devices to reduce the strain on your joints during your everyday activities

If your symptoms are more severe, you may need additional treatments such as painkilling medication and a structured exercise plan carried out under the supervision of a physiotherapist.

In a small number of cases, where the above treatments haven't helped or the damage to the joints is particularly severe, surgery may be carried out to repair, strengthen or replace a damaged joint.

However, you may be able to minimise your risk of developing the condition by avoiding injury and staying as healthy as possible.


Avoid exercise that puts strain on your joints and forces them to bear an excessive load, such as running and weight training. Instead, try exercises such as swimming and cycling, where your joints are better supported and the strain on your joints is more controlled.

Try to do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as cycling or fast walking) every week to build up your muscle strength and keep yourself generally healthy.

Read about health and fitness including tips on simple exercises you can do at home.


It can also help tomaintain good posture at all times and avoid staying in the same position for too long.

If you work at a desk, make sure your chair is at the correct height, and take regular breaks to move around.

Read about common posture mistakes and fixes .

Losing weight

Being overweight or obese can increase the strain on your joints and increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis. If you're overweight, losing weightmay help lower your chances of developing the condition.

To find out whether you're overweight or obese, use the healthy weight calculator .


Want to know more?

  • Arthritis Care: taking care of joints
  • Arthritis Research UK: exercise and arthritis
  • Arthritis Research UK: diet and arthritis

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 8 Aug 2016