The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects cartilage. Cartilage is a slippery tissue that covers the end of bones in a joint, allows the bones to glide over each other easily, and absorbs shock during movement. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in the hands, knees, hips, spine, and other joints wears down and no longer protects the bones. This leads to symptoms of osteoarthritis–swelling, soreness, and stiffness of the affected joints. In osteoarthritis, the joints are not deformed, but they become progressively more affected with loss of flexibility and function.
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed based on a person’s medical history; physical exam including mobility testing, and X-rays. Other tests that may be performed include blood tests or tests to examine the fluid in the affected joint. Sometimes an occupational therapy evaluation can help a clinician make the diagnosis.
Treatment of osteoarthritis is individualized to meet each patient’s needs, lifestyle, and overall health. The goal of treatment is to improve joint function, maintain a healthy weight, control pain, and achieve a healthy lifestyle. Treatment can include a combination of exercise, weight control, rest, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).