Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It is a chronic “wear-and-tear” disease of the joints that most often affects the weight-bearing joints (knee, hip and spine), but can also occur in the hands, shoulder, ankle—virtually any joint in the body.

Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 27 million Americans, making it the most common joint disorder in the U.S. It’s usually seen in people who are middle-aged and older, but may also occur in young people due to a joint injury or overuse.

OA destroys cartilage (the coating on the ends of bones) in the joint, and narrows the joint space. As the cartilage wears away, the ends of the bones may overgrow (thicken) and form growths called bone spurs, causing pain and interfering with joint movement.

In addition, small fragments of bone and cartilage may break off and float in the fluid that’s in a joint space. These loose bodies can cause the joint to catch or lock.

Subchondral bone cysts (SBCs) may also form inside joints. These are sacs filled with fluid and surrounded by bone, and they may also hinder joint movement.

Why Choose Us to Treat Osteoarthritis?

Cooper University Health Care is home to an exceptional team of rheumatologists who are experts at diagnosing and treating OA. Our capabilities include:

  • Comprehensive diagnostic testing: Along with a careful medical history and physical exam—during which your doctor will check your affected joint for tenderness, swelling, redness and range of motion—certain imaging and lab tests may also be recommended, including:
    • Diagnostic imaging including x-rays that can reveal cartilage loss and/or bone spurs, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that may help provide more information in complex cases
    • Lab testing including blood tests than help rule out other causes of joint pain, and joint fluid analysis to determine the presence of inflammation and whether your pain is caused by an infection or gout vs. OA
  • Treatment tailored to your unique needs and based on your symptoms, age and general health, as well has how severe your OA is. The goal of treatment is to ease joint pain and stiffness, and improve joint movement. Today’s treatment options include:
    • Oral and topical medications such as over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
    • Therapy, including physical and occupational therapies, can help increase range of motion, reduce pain and teach you to do everyday tasks without putting extra stress on joints
    • Injections of medications into the joint for pain relief and lubrication
    • Surgery options may include arthroscopy, fusion, osteotomy or joint replacement, depending on which joints are affected
  • A multidisciplinary team approach to care—As the region’s top academic health system, Cooper is home to experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you streamlined access to all the expertise you need, all in one place. When it comes to OA, we work closely with Cooper’s orthopedic surgeons.

Osteoarthritis Causes and Risk Factors

Osteoarthritis is caused when cartilage in the joints becomes inflamed, breaks down and wears away over time. Cartilage is a type of firm, slippery tissue that enables the joint to move without friction.

In advanced osteoarthritis, the cartilage deteriorates completely and you are left with bone rubbing on bone, which can be extremely painful.

The risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

  • Extra weight: Being overweight or obese can, over time, put stress on such joints as the knees
  • Injury or overuse: Severe injury to a joint can lead to osteoarthritis; injury may also result from repetitive overuse or misuse over time
  • Heredity: Inherited joint defects and being double-jointed may contribute to osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis symptoms usually develop slowly, over years. While symptoms vary in each person, they generally include:

  • Joint pain, especially after overuse
  • Joint stiffness, especially after sleep or inactivity
  • Less movement or range of motion in the joint over time
  • A grinding sensation in the joint when you move it, as the cartilage wears away (in more advanced stages)

Because the symptoms of osteoarthritis can look like other health conditions, it’s important to see a qualified healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Managing Osteoarthritis

While there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, it’s important to help keep joints functioning by easing pain and inflammation. In addition to following the treatment plan you and your healthcare provider have agreed on, there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve your quality of life. These include:

  • Lose weight: Being overweight or obese puts more stress on weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees
  • Exercise: Certain exercises, such as swimming, walking, low-impact aerobics, tai chi and yoga, can help lessen joint pain and stiffness and help keep your joints and supporting muscles flexible.
  • Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet: Replace, sugary, refined foods, which can trigger the body’s inflammatory response, with whole, nutrient-rich foods 
  • Alternate between activity and rest: Switching between activity and rest can reduce stress on your joints, helping to protect them and ease symptoms
  • Use assistive devices and adaptive equipment: Crutches, canes and walkers can help lessen stress on certain joints and improve your balance, while reachers and grabbers extend your reach and reduce straining
  • Manage medicine use: Long-term use of some anti-inflammatory medicines can lead to stomach bleeding; work with your healthcare provider to develop strategies to reduce this risk

Make an Appointment With an Osteoarthritis Expert at Cooper

To learn more about the services available for treating osteoarthritis in the Division of Rheumatology or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).