FAQ: What Is Osteoarthritis?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What is osteoarthritis?

Expert Answer

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging.net. She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common underlying cause of arthritis symptoms. It's sometimes referred to as "wear-and-tear" arthritis, because the symptoms are usually the result of joint cartilage wearing down due to age or hard use.

The most commonly involved parts of the body are the hips, knees, hands, neck, and lower spine. However, almost any joint can potentially be affected.

Osteoarthritis is extremely common in older adults and often causes chronic pain and stiffness in the affected joints. The pain and disability can range from mild and occasional to severe daily pain that interferes with mobility or sleep. Although it's not usually possible to permanently cure osteoarthritis, certain treatments can help control symptoms and maximize movement. It's also sometimes possible to surgically repair or replace a joint damaged by arthritis.

Because conditions other than osteoarthritis can also cause chronic joint pains, it's important to see a doctor before concluding that symptoms are caused by osteoarthritis.