Knee X-rayWhat is it?

Osteoarthritis is the wear process in joints.  A joint is where two bones rub together; the surfaces of the bones have a layer of smooth shiny slippery material called articular cartilage on them.  This articular cartilage layer wears thinner; it gets rough and grating.  It is possible to wear right through the articular cartilage into the bone.  

How do you get it?

Osteoarthritis tends to occur in all joints as you get older.  Some people are lucky and it only occurs very slowly.  Some people are unlucky and it occurs more quickly.  If a joint is damaged, it will wear out faster.

What symptoms do you get?

Osteoarthritis typically causes pain, particularly with activity.  Some people will get pain that gradually gets worse during the day.  Some people will be OK while they are moving around, but get pain when they stop.  You can get sudden, severe pain, which will stop you in your tracks.  Osteoarthritis can give you just about any type of pain you can think of.  It is usually in the area of the affected joint.

What happens without treatment?

Typically, the pain will get worse over time.  This usually happens slowly, but occasionally it will get worse rapidly.

How do you treat it?

The first line of treatment is anti-inflammatory tablets and physiotherapy.  If this fails, an arthroscopy can be helpful, but ultimately, if there is widespread bone on bone, then a joint replacement may be the best option.