A Guide to Osteoarthritis


Arthritis (or Osteoarthritis – OA) and Rheumatism refer to the same type of disorders. Do not confuse these terms with Rheumatoid arthritis which is an entirely different disorder.


  • This is the greatest cause of disability in the UK today
  • It affects 20 million people with 8 million significantly affected
  • One child in every 1000 suffers from a juvenile form of arthritis
  • Arthritis costs around 88 million lost working days each year

What is Osteoarthritis (OA)?

In simple terms this is wear and tear' of the joints. It is a very common problem affecting many millions of people in the UK.

It primarily affects older people as their joints have suffered wear and tear through continual use over many years. It becomes more noticeable in those around 50 years of age.

It also affects younger people particularly those, like athletes, manual workers, the overweight and following injury.

How does Osteoarthritis affect people?

When someone suffers from OA, the cartilage becomes thinner and the joint surfaces become roughened. As the destruction progresses it affects the underlying bone, and the ligaments and tendons of the joints. Sometimes small pieces the cartilage or chalky deposits of crystals may float inside the joint causing severe pain and inflammation.

Arthritis usually starts gradually over a number of years. Unlike Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis only attacks one joint at a time without any other symptoms like feeling ill or feverish.

The pain is usually felt more after activities or at the end of the day. The joints most often affected are: thumbs, fingers, hips, knees, ankles, feet and the spine. The joints may feel stiff and produce a creaking/cracking sound on movement.

If a joint is badly affected then it may look deformed, painful or difficult to use and the muscles near the joint may become weaker. If the joint becomes severely affected the possibility of a prosthetic joint may be considered.

If the spine is affected (also known as spondylosis) it may cause frequent episodes of backache especially in the lower part of the spine or the neck.

What causes Osteoarthritis?

There is no single cause for OA and it is thought that it may be a combination of different factors and circumstances, such as:

Age and sex: OA is common in older people, usually after 50, slightly more often in women.

Joint damage by injury: Normal activity does not cause OA. However, repeated small injuries or a major injury or an operation to a joint may make you prone to develop OA later in life.

Heredity: Some forms of OA run in families – particularly the type that affects the hands of middle-aged women.

Can OA be treated?

There is not cure' for this disorder, but there are lots of ways to relieve the symptoms, improve movement and possibly slow down its progress.

  • Physiotherapy / Osteopathy: Helps to strengthen the muscles around the joint and will help to protect it. Exercises and local treatment can help to relieve the pain and improve movement. Short regular courses of treatment every few months will keep your joints working well, your muscles strong, and your movement normal.
  • Hydrotherapy: A course of supervised exercises in warm water in a special swimming pool can help to relieve pain and improve movement.
  • Pain-killing or anti-inflammatory tablets: For the temporary relief of pain you may use paracetamol only occasionally when needed. If the joints are inflamed then your doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory tablets. Again, these should only be taken for a short period of time to avoid side-effects.
  • Injection: In certain cases your doctor may prescribe an occasional injection for a very troublesome joint. These injections contain a steroid type drug and should only be used when absolutely necessary.
  • Surgery: This final option is only considered if a joint has been so badly affected that normal movement is not possible or if you are suffering from constant severe pain.

Self-help – what can you do?

  • Keep mobile
  • Take regular exercises
  • Do specific stretching exercises on regular basis
  • Swimming
  • Use proper equipment at home and work to avoid injuries
  • Eat a good diet with lots of fresh foods.
  • Avoid foods which may affect you, such as: milk, wheat, red meats, coffee, oranges, tomatoes, peanuts, sweets
  • Take supplements such as vitamins, minerals, fish oils, garlic, cider vinegar
  • Reduce weight
  • Consult your Osteopath or physiotherapist
  • Learn how to relax