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Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a type of joint disease that results from breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone. The most common symptoms are joint pain and stiffness. Initially, symptoms may occur only following exercise, but over time they may become constant. Other symptoms may include joint swelling, decreased range of motion, and, when the back is affected, weakness or numbness of the arms and legs. The most commonly involved joints are those near the ends of the fingers, at the base of the thumb, neck, lower back, knee, and hips. Joints on one side of the body are often more affected than those on the other. Usually the symptoms develop over some years. They can affect work and normal daily activities. Unlike other types of arthritis, only the joints are typically affected.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 237 million people (3.3% of the world population). Among those over 60 years old, about 10% of males and 18% of females are affected. It is the cause of about 2% of years lived with disability. In Australia, about 1.9 million people are affected, and in the United States, 30 to 53 million people are affected. It becomes more common in both sexes as people become older.

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, feet, spine, and the large weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, although in theory, any joint in the body can be affected. As osteoarthritis progresses, movement patterns (such as gait), are typically affected. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of a joint effusion of the knee.

The development of osteoarthritis is correlated with a history of previous joint injury and with obesity, especially with respect to knees. Changes in sex hormone levels may play a role in the development of osteoarthritis, as it is more prevalent among post-menopausal women than among men of the same age.

Other structures within the joint can also be affected. The ligaments within the joint become thickened and fibrotic and the menisci can become damaged and wear away. Menisci can be completely absent by the time a person undergoes a joint replacement. New bone outgrowths, called "spurs" or osteophytes, can form on the margins of the joints, possibly in an attempt to improve the congruence of the articular cartilage surfaces in the absence of the menisci. The subchondral bone volume increases and becomes less mineralized (hypomineralization). All these changes can cause problems functioning. The pain in an osteoarthritic joint has been related to thickened synovium and to subchondral bone lesions.

Lateral wedge insoles and neutral insoles do not appear to be useful in osteoarthritis of the knee. Knee braces may help but their usefulness has also been disputed. For pain management heat can be used to relieve stiffness, and cold can relieve muscle spasms and pain. Among people with hip and knee osteoarthritis, exercise in water may reduce pain and disability, and increase quality of life in the short term. Also therapeutic exercise programs such as aerobics and walking reduce pain and improve physical functioning for up to 6 months after the end of the program for people with knee osteoarthritis.

If the impact of symptoms of osteoarthritis on quality of life is significant and more conservative management is ineffective, joint replacement surgery or resurfacing may be recommended. Evidence supports joint replacement for both knees and hips as it is both clinically effective, and cost-effective. Surgery to transfer articular cartilage from a non-weight-bearing area to the damaged area is one possible procedure that has some success, but there are problems getting the transferred cartilage to integrate well with the existing cartilage at the transfer site.

As of 2012, osteoarthritis affected 52.5 million people in the United States, approximately 50% of whom were 65 years or older. It is estimated that 80% of the population have radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis by age 65, although only 60% of those will have symptoms. The rate of osteoarthritis in the United States is forecast to be 78 million (26%) adults by 2040.