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What is Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is inflammation in a joint resulting in swelling and decreased range of motion of the affected joint. Arthritis (joint inflammation) can have many different causes. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of arthritis within the South African population.

What causes Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, for many people, is a consequence of aging and is a result of long-term “wear and tear” of your joints. In other words, your joints degenerate over time from use – this is why osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease.

In osteoarthritis the primary area of degeneration is within the articular cartilage. The articular cartilage is a type of tissue which covers the ends of bones and allows bones to smoothly glide over one another. Damage to this area (like in Osteoarthritis) makes it harder for bones to move and over time may lead to physical deformities and pain. Usually, osteoarthritis develops slowly over many years and may start in only one joint.

Joints most affected include:

  • The joints of the hand
  • The knees
  • The hip
  • The spine

* Men usually are more often affected in their hips while women are more commonly affected in their hands and knees.

Risk factors

  • Old age - the disease typically begins in your 50s and 60s.
  • Obesity
  • Gender - Women are more affected than men, especially after menopause.
  • Genetics
  • Previous trauma to a joint
  • Occupation - Miners and farmers particularly at risk in South Africa


  • Joint pain which occurs with movement or weight-bearing. It is commonly described as a deep and aching pain.
  • Joint stiffness which lasts less than 30 minutes in the mornings. The normal range of movement may also be impaired.
  • Joint crepitus. This is a grating-like sensation as you move the affected joint.
  • Bony swelling of affected joints.

* Symptoms occur gradually but progressively.


Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed clinically by a doctor by recognising a characteristic pattern of structural abnormalities and symptoms. An X-Ray may also assist with the diagnosis.


There is no known prevention for osteoarthritis and the management of the disease is based on treating the symptoms and reducing disability.


  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Local ice-packs or heat
  • Massage
  • Insoles for flat feet, walking stick


  • Pain medications such as paracetamol
  • Injections into the affected joints with medication to reduce the inflammation (Corticosteroid injections) to provide some short-term improvement


  • For severe osteoarthritis, hip or knee replacements may be indicated.

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