Osteoarthritis (OA) is a joint disease that causes the cartilage to break down and bone to overgrow or form cysts. Cartilage is a smooth, shiny material that lines the joints – allowing them to glide easily as you move. It is a type of resilient connective tissue that covers and protects the ends of bones in joints. Although OA can affect any joint in the body, it most frequently affects the hips, knees, hands, feet, and spine.
Arthritis is among the leading causes of disability in Canada. OA is the most common form of arthritis. It affects 1 out of every 10 people in this country. Statistics show that men and women are affected in equal numbers up to the age of 55.
After menopause, women tend to have more severe and complicated problems. OA usually occurs after the age of 45, but it can occur earlier in life, and even be seen in the spines of teenagers. It is present, even if not causing symptoms, in virtually all people over the age of 80.
Risk factors for developing OA include:
- increasing age
- having a family member with the condition
- repeated injury to the joint through sports or work
- being overweight
- having another form of arthritis
There's no cure for OA, although research is beginning to unravel the mechanisms of the disease, which should lead to new treatments. Treatments currently focus on managing pain, reducing the load on the joints, and improving the strength of the muscles supporting the joints. Experimental therapies try to slow the progression of the disease and increase the mobility and flexibility of the joints.