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What is Osteoarthritis

OA is the most common joint disorder, typically affecting hand joints (especially those involved with a pinch-grip), weight-bearing joints (hips, knees and big toes) and the spine.

In healthy joints, the rubbery cartilage covers the ends of each bone providing a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion and acting as a cushion between the bones. In OA, the cartilage wears away, leading to joint damage.

What causes OA?

The cause of OA is not clear. Common risk factors include increasing age, obesity, previous joint injury and overuse. Genetic factors, pre-existing joint disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and metabolic diseases may cause OA.

What are the symptoms of OA?
  • Common symptoms are joint pain and stiffness which typically occur after rigorous activity or towards the end of the day. Weather conditions may aggravate the, especially damp weather.
  • Affected joints may swell after extended activity.
  • Clicking or cracking sounds occur when bending.
  • Bone swelling occurs.
How is OA diagnosed?

OA can usually be diagnosed based on patients' symptoms and medical examinations. While X-rays are useful for confirming the presence of osteoarthritis, they do not provide details about the degree of pain or disability and are not solely diagnostic.

What is the treatment for OA?

A combination of lifestyle changes and medications may be used to relieve symptoms:

  • Weight loss and exercises that do not involve weight-bearing joints (such as swimming) and provide joint range of motion, muscle strengthening and aerobic fitness.
  • Assistive devices such as walking aids, splints and food orthotics with advice of occupational therapists.
  • Topical and oral medications (used in step-wise fashion): Paracetamol, NSAIDs
  • Joint-injections

Surgical management such as joint replacements may be considered at advanced stages.

What should I do if I suspect I have OA?

Consult a Family Physician or Rheumatologist. Education, lifestyle modification, painkillers and intra-articular injections may occasionally be used to relieve discomfort. If OA has resulted in pain, deformity and loss of function, the Orthopaedic surgeon may consider surgery.

This condition is managed by the Division of Rheumatology.

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