Osteoarthritis diagnosis and treatment


Wear and tear affecting cartilage in the joints, causing pain, weakness and stiffness.

What is osteoarthritis?

Over time, the cartilage protecting the ends of the bones in our joints wears away, causing pain, weakness, and stiffness. This is known as osteoarthritis (OA). It can affect any joint, but is most commonly experienced in the knees, hip, and spine. It’s a degenerative condition, usually occurring in people over 50, but it can also affect younger age groups too. It is the most common form of arthritis.

Need to know

How does osteoarthritis develop, and what are the symptoms?

Osteoarthritis develops as the protective, shock-absorbing cartilage and related structures in your joints deteriorate over time. Obesity and joint injury can exacerbate the condition, while rheumatoid arthritis, gout or pseudogout can also damage cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis. Symptoms of the condition include:
  • Pain – this can become worse when you move your joint, bear weight in certain positions, or at the end of the day.
  • Stiffness – your joints may feel stiff, especially after rest or in the morning.
  • Swelling – this can present as hard or soft swelling around the affected joint.
  • Loss of flexibility – you may find that you have reduced mobility in the affected joint.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis is often picked up during routine health checks, but you can ask your doctor for a diagnosis if you think you have the condition.

They will carry out a full medical assessment, which includes testing the affected joint for:

  • Tenderness
  • Creaking or grating sounds (crepitus)
  • Bony swelling
  • Excess joint fluid
  • Reduced movement
  • Joint instability
  • Muscle weakness

They may also recommend an X-ray, to highlight any bony spurs or narrowing spaces between bones. MRI scans are also used to show changes in soft tissues, such as thinning cartilage and worn tendons and muscles.

Living with osteoarthritis after diagnosis

Osteoarthritis symptoms can usually be managed with physiotherapy, pain killers, activity modification, weight management and exercise. Swimming and cycling are good exercises that can help build strength and boost your range of motion. Steroid injections can also be used to help relieve symptoms. Your consultant will discuss what course of action is right for you as part of your personalised care plan.

If these measures fail to adequately control the symptoms, leaving you with persistently poor mobility and quality of life, then surgery is also an option.

Keyhole surgery may be recommended to clear debris in the joint and restore mobility.

Joint replacement surgery is also available for worn knees, hips, ankles, and shoulders. Here, the worn joint is replaced with an artificial joint to restore mobility and relieve pain. In some circumstances, fusion surgery may be recommended, but your specialist will discuss the best option for you.

How to prevent osteoarthritis

While it’s not possible to prevent osteoarthritis completely, there are things you can do to help minimise your risk of developing the condition, such as avoiding injuries and making an effort to live a healthier lifestyle. The following lifestyle changes can also be used to ensure you’re keeping your risks low:

  • Exercising – focus on low-impact and generally pain-free exercises such as strength training, stretching and aerobic exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – carrying excess weight will add strain on your joints, increasing the rate of wear and tear

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From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

Contact us

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Call 020 7079 4344
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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