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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and is sometimes called ‘wear and tear’ arthritis. It is associated with increasing age, though it is a distinct entity from the changes associated with ageing, and affects almost 9 million people in the UK. Osteoarthritis is a disease affecting the cartilage layer that covers the ends of bones at a joint and normally functions to provide a smooth surface that allows friction-free joint movement. Any joint can suffer from osteoarthritis but some of the commonest include the hips, back, knees, shoulders, fingers.

What is happening with osteoarthritis?

In osteoarthritis, there is a breakdown of the smooth cartilage layer which then tries to heal itself and there is gradual progressive thinning of this cartilage layer with eventual complete loss. Osteoarthritis is characterised by pain and stiffness that is usually worse with movement and tends to be worst at the end of the day or after heavy activity.

There are two type of OA – primary and secondary. Primary OA develops in healthy joints and is the most common type, typically developing over the age of 50 with 10% of people having a significant disability as a result over the age of 65. Secondary OA occurs in joints that have already been damaged through injury or deformity and so this can occur in younger people.


There is no cure for OA but it can be managed and so reduce pain and other symptoms. It is best treated initially with simple measures including low impact exercise, strengthening activities, pain killers, and walking sticks or supports. For osteoarthritis affecting your lower back or joints of your legs, you should try to lose weight as this can be very effective at reducing the severity of your symptoms. Some people can find using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) machine helpful in reducing pain as well as wearing a knee brace or shoe insoles if these areas are affected by OA.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have had a painful joint or multiple painful joints that have not started to improve after a few weeks you should arrange to see your doctor who will examine you and arrange further investigations if appropriate. If your symptoms are severe you may be referred to see a specialist, and further management can include injections or surgery depending upon the joints affected.

Related topics

Read about Arthritis

Read about Lower back pain

Read about Bursitis

Read about Polymyalgia rheumatica

Read about Hip fracture

Read about Hip dislocation

Read about Osteoporosis

Read about Osteopenia

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023