Osteoarthritis may cause joint pain and stiffness. Certain medications, lifestyle changes, and surgery could help relieve pain and inflammation.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition that causes inflammation, stiffness, and pain in the joints.

It’s the most common type of arthritis, affecting nearly 32.5 million people in the United States.

Over time, osteoarthritis may reduce mobility and impact your quality of life, but treatments could help slow the progression of the disease.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, types, causes, and treatments for osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis may vary depending on the severity of your condition and which part of your body is affected.

The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis may include:

As osteoarthritis becomes more advanced, the pain associated with it may become more intense. Over time, swelling in the joint and surrounding area may also occur.

Learn more about the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is caused by gradual joint and cartilage damage.

Cartilage is a tough, rubbery substance that protects the ends of bones within a joint, allowing them to move easily against each other. With osteoarthritis, this cartilage breaks down over time, leading to bones rubbing against each other. This may cause intense pain and other osteoarthritis symptoms.

Researchers don’t yet know the underlying cause of this gradual joint degeneration, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

However, several osteoarthritis risk factors have been identified, which may contribute to the development and progression of the condition. These may include:

  • genetics, such as having a family member with the condition
  • past injuries, such as torn cartilage, dislocated joints, or ligament injuries
  • being age 50 years and older
  • being assigned female at birth
  • having overweight or obesity
  • having gone through menopause
  • having an occupation that involves kneeling, climbing, heavy lifting, or similar actions
  • having another medical condition that affects your joint health, such as a different type of arthritis

Learn more about the possible causes of osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis may affect different parts of your body.

It most commonly affects the knees and hips, but it may occur in any joint. Other types of osteoarthritis include:

Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition, which means symptoms may spread to other parts of your body. Having osteoarthritis in one part of your body may also increase your risk of developing the condition in other body parts, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Osteoarithis is a progressive condition that may be classified into four stages. This may depend on the severity of your symptoms and the degree of joint and cartilage damage.

The four stages of osteoarthritis are:

  • Stage 1 (Mild): You may experience early symptoms of osteoarthritis, but your cartilage is still in good shape.
  • Stage 2 (Moderate): You may experience sharp, acute symptoms. Your cartilage is showing signs of wear and tear.
  • Stage 3 (Advanced): You may experience constant osteoarthritis symptoms, especially when you apply weight to the affected joint. The joint cartilage is also almost completely gone.
  • Stage 4 (Severe): This is the most severe form of osteoarthritis. You may experience:
    • severe pain, stiffness, and inflammation
    • decreased range of motion
    • joint instability, such as sudden locking or buckling
    • other symptoms, such as muscle weakness, bone spurs, and joint deformity

During stage 4 osteoarthritis, you’ll likely need surgery to reduce your symptoms and increase mobility, function, and quality of life.

Learn more about the four stages of osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that usually develops gradually. It may be hard to provide an accurate diagnosis in the early stages.

A healthcare professional will start with a physical examination and ask about your symptoms and medical history.

They may then order imaging tests to get a better look at your joints, such as X-ray or MRI.

In some cases, a doctor may order an ESR blood test or a synovial (joint) fluid analysis to see if other conditions may be causing inflammation or joint pain. Some conditions they may rule out include:

If you need help finding a primary care doctor, check out our Healthline FindCare tool.

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatment will aim to help:

  • relieve symptoms
  • increase joint flexibility, mobility, and function
  • reduce inflammation
  • increase your quality of life

A healthcare professional can help develop the best treatment plan for you. This may vary for every individual depending on several factors, such as the severity of your symptoms and which part of your body is affected.

Your osteoarthritis treatment plan will typically include a combination of treatments. These may include:

Learn more about the different treatments for osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis may lead to a variety of physical, mental, and emotional complications if left untreated.

A common complication of osteoarthritis is increased stiffness in your joints, which could lead to impaired balance and mobility. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this may significantly increase your risk of falling, which could lead to minor or severe injuries.

Other possible complications of osteoarthritis may include:

Learn more about the complications of osteoarthritis.

You may have risk factors for osteoarthritis that you can’t change, such as heredity and age.

However, there are several modifiable risk factors that could be prevented with the following tips:

Learn more about how to prevent osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) share similar symptoms, but they’re two different conditions.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition, which means it increases in severity over time.

RA may also cause progressive joint damage over time if left untreated.

However, RA is an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy, soft lining (synovium) around your joints. As the immune system launches its assault, fluid buildup occurs within the joint. This causes stiffness, pain, swelling, and inflammation.

If you’re unsure which form of arthritis you may have, speak with a doctor. They can provide a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for your condition.

Learn more about the differences between osteoarthritis and RA.

What is the best thing to do for osteoarthritis?

The best treatment for osteoarthritis will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms. Exercising, eating a well-balanced diet, and following your treatment plan could help improve symptoms, mobility, and quality of life.

What is the number 1 treatment for osteoarthritis?

The best treatment for osteoarthritis will depend on several factors, such as the severity of your symptoms. For example, lifestyle changes and natural remedies may be enough to help manage stages 1 and 2 osteoarthritis. However, stages 3 and 4 osteoarthritis may require more invasive treatments, such as surgery.

What should you not do with osteoarthritis?

If you have osteoarthritis, it’s best to avoid high impact activities, twisting the affected joint, or putting excessive strain on the affected joint.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that may cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in your joints.

Although there’s no cure, a treatment plan could help manage your symptoms, increase mobility, and improve your quality of life.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you think you may have osteoarthritis. They could provide a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.