Please note that all the pages on this website are intended for information only and do not constitute medical advice. For treatment recommendations and if symptoms persist, patients should consult their GP or other clinician. 

What is Osteoarthritis? 

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes pain and loss of mobility or joint function. It can greatly diminish the quality of life of sufferers, particularly when it affects small joints, such as those in the hand.

Osteoarthritis is the most common rheumatic disease and is second only to cardiovascular disease in producing chronic disability.

Osteoarthritis is not a passive 'wear and tear' phenomenon, as was believed until recently. It is an active disease with a complex underlying pathology.

Three stages of osteoarthritis

  1. A slight stiffness after lying down or sitting down for a while is often the first indication of osteoarthritis, but this stiffness vanishes soon after the joints are being used and one gets moving again.
  2. As osteoarthritis progresses, these joint movements will become increasingly and continually painful. There may be a gritty sensation in the joint; the function of the joint is impaired and one can experience a reduced range of movement. 
  3. The last stage of joint degeneration is when the joints are painful even when resting which may adversely affect sleep at night. At each of the stages of osteoarthritis there may also be inflammation and swellings present in the joint. 

X-ray image of arthritis in the knee

Some other factors may accelerate the natural wear and tear of the joints:

  • being overweight
  • inflammation
  • incorrect joint alignment
  • sporting activities with a higher rate of injury
  • working conditions requiring lifting and carrying of heavy loads
  • inactivity due to joint resting or life style choices

Which joints can be affected?

Basically all synovial joints of the body can become arthritic. Particularly frequent and painful are arthritic problems in the larger joints such as:

  • Knee joint
  • Hip joint
  • Shoulder joint

Arthritis can also affect smaller joints and impinge upon the quality of life:

  • Saddle joint (thumb joint)
  • All other finger joints
  • Toe joints (particularly the large toe)
  • Facet joints of the spine

Other places of potential problems:

  • Elbow joint
  • Ankle joints

In order to understand how these problems develop it is helpful to familiarise yourself with the joint structure.