Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, with more than 8.75 million people seeking treatment. It’s characterised by a breakdown of cartilage, which acts as a cushion between your bones and lets your joints glide smoothly. This can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and movement issues. You might have less stiffness after you move, but activity can make pain worse. OA can make every tasks more difficult. Over time, this disease can worsen causing bones to break down and bits of bone or cartilage to break off.

It also may affect other aspects of your overall health. For example, if your mobility is limited, you may gain weight and be at greater risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Stiff joints may make you more likely to fall.

Where Does OA Most Often Occur?

OA can occur in any joint, although it most often affects the following:

  • Knees
  • Hips
  • Lower back
  • Neck
  • Fingers (in the small joints and in the bases of your thumbs)
  • Wrists
  • Toes (usually the bases of your big toes)
  • Ankles

What Are Its Risk Factors?

You’re more likely to have OA if you’re older than 45, although it can occur at any age. More women than men have OA, and you’re also more likely to have it if you have close relatives who have had the disease. An injury to a joint can also increase your risk, even if it occurred years before you have any symptoms of OA. Obesity is also a risk factor.

How Is It Treated?

Your doctor may suggest some of the following treatments depending on the severity of your OA and your particular circumstances:


Easy forms of exercise such as walking can help reduce pain and also make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Your doctor may also suggest strengthening exercises to help build muscles around the affected joint, which will help reduce pain and wear and tear on the joint. Stretching exercises, including yoga, can help improve flexibility.


Medication may be prescribed to help with pain or inflammation. Some, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are taken by mouth.  Others are creams that are rubbed directly onto the affected areas. You may also receive injections of medication in your doctor’s office, including corticosteroids to help with inflammation or hyaluronic acid to help lubricate your joints.

Assistive Devices

Tools such as jar openers can help you better manage everyday activities. You may also benefit from devices that help with mobility, such as canes, walkers, knee braces, and shoe orthotics.

Alternative Therapies

Some people with OA find that therapies such as massage, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy help with their symptoms.


Surgery is usually the last course of action, taken only when other treatments haven’t been effective. It can be used when pain is severe or mobility has been greatly impaired. During surgery the damaged joint is repaired, strengthened, or replaced.

Summing It Up

While there’s no cure for OA, it doesn’t always get worse over time. By following your doctor’s advice and trying different types of treatments you may be able to prevent further damage. You may also be able to lessen the amount of pain you feel and gain flexibility.