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Osteoarthritis is a common joint disease, especially in older people. It is one of the most frequent causes of physical disability among adults, especially those ages 65 or older. When this disease starts, cartilage in the joints begins to wear away, and this can lead to the bones rubbing against each other. Among the common symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain and limited movement. While there is no cure, treatment options (such as exercise, medicine, and alternative therapies) can help ease the pain.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is especially common in older people. The disease is thought to affect over 20 million people in the United States.
Osteoarthritis starts when cartilage begins to become ragged and wears away. Cartilage is the tissue that pads bones in a joint. At its worst, the disease causes all of the cartilage in a joint to wear away, leaving bones that rub against each other.
You are most likely to have osteoarthritis in your hands, neck, lower back, or the large weight-bearing joints of your body, such as knees and hips.
Osteoarthritis is sometimes called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis.

Cartilage and Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that mostly affects the cartilage. Cartilage is the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another. It also absorbs energy from the shock of physical movement.
In a person with this disease, the surface layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away. This allows bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape. Also, bone spurs -- small growths called osteophytes -- may grow on the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space. This causes more pain and damage.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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