What is the Most Common Arthritic Condition?

Arthritis is a term that describes over 100 medical conditions that affect the joints and surrounding tissues. It results in pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints that can limit mobility and reduce quality of life. But what is the most common type of arthritis that affects people? Keep reading to learn more.

Osteoarthritis is the Most Prevalent Arthritic Condition

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 32 million adults in the United States. It has been nicknamed “wear and tear” arthritis and is caused by breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones within joints.

Some key facts about osteoarthritis:

  • Affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, back, and neck most often
  • Causes joint pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility
  • Gets worse over time and has no cure
  • Main risk factors are aging, obesity, and joint injury
  • Treatments aim to reduce pain and improve joint function
  • Occurs in more women than men, especially after menopause

Osteoarthritis results from damage to the smooth cartilage that covers the ends of bones. This cartilage acts as a shock absorber and allows joints to glide smoothly. As this protective cartilage wears away from overuse or injury, osteoarthritis develops.

Let’s look in more detail at what happens within joints affected by osteoarthritis.

What Happens in Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis causes structural changes within joints over time:

Cartilage breakdown – The slick, rubbery cartilage that cushions joints gradually wears away. Areas of damaged cartilage can form, eroding down to the bone.

Bone changes – With less protective cartilage, bone underneath becomes damaged. Bony spurs called osteophytes can form.

Joint lining inflammation – The synovium (joint lining) can become inflamed (swollen). This impairs joint lubrication.

Weakened muscles – Supporting muscles around the joint become weaker as you use the joint less. This decreases joint stability.

Loose ligaments – Ligaments that support joints can become lax and stretchy. Joints become loose and unstable.

Bone grinding – With loss of cartilage, bones rub together causing friction. This causes the grinding sensation felt with osteoarthritis.

Over time, these structural joint changes result in the typical symptoms of osteoarthritis – pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of flexibility in the affected joint. The most commonly affected joints are in the knees, hands, hips, back, and neck.

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

People with osteoarthritis typically experience joint pain, stiffness, and mobility problems. The exact symptoms often depend on the specific joints affected by OA.

Knee osteoarthritis:

  • Pain when walking, climbing stairs, or standing from sitting
  • Swelling, tenderness, or tightness in knees
  • Crackling or grinding sounds when moving knees
  • Knees locking or buckling
  • Gradual loss of knee mobility

Hand osteoarthritis:

  • Finger joint pain and stiffness
  • Difficulty gripping objects, opening jars
  • Bony knobs on finger joints
  • Swelling, redness, or warmth in fingers
  • Limited ability to bend fingers

Hip osteoarthritis:

  • Deep, aching pain in hips, groin, or thighs
  • Stiffness and trouble moving hips
  • Loss of flexibility and range of motion
  • Limping or difficulty walking
  • Pain when bending over or sitting

Spinal osteoarthritis:

  • Lower back pain that worsens with bending, lifting

Neck osteoarthritis:

  • Neck stiffness and reduced ability to turn head

In addition to joint-specific symptoms, osteoarthritis can also cause:

  • Morning stiffness lasting less than 30 minutes
  • Joint pain that worsens with use and improves with rest
  • Joints feeling stiff after periods of inactivity
  • Joints feeling noisy, crunchy, or rough when moving
  • Mild swelling around affected joints

What Are the Main Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis?

Certain factors raise your likelihood of developing osteoarthritis as you age:

Age – The risk of OA rises starting around age 40 and increases significantly over age 65. Over 80% of people over age 65 show some radiographic evidence of OA.

Obesity – Excess weight puts added stress on weight-bearing joints like knees and hips. This accelerates cartilage breakdown.

Joint injury – Prior injuries to joints, like ACL knee tears, can increase chances of getting osteoarthritis later in that joint.

Genetics – Certain genetic mutations can make some people more prone to developing osteoarthritis, especially in the hands.

Gender – Osteoarthritis tends to be more common and severe among women, particularly after menopause.

Repetitive stress – Regular heavy joint use through sports, work, or daily activities can contribute to osteoarthritis over time.

Osteoarthritis usually develops gradually over years and is not preventable. But controlling your weight, avoiding joint injuries, and limiting repetitive impact activities may help reduce your risks.

How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

Diagnosing osteoarthritis involves assessing a person’s symptoms and examining their joints. Doctors may use several tests to confirm OA:

Medical history – The doctor asks about symptoms, joint pain locations, injury history, and daily activities impact.

Physical exam – The joint is inspected for swelling, warmth, and limited mobility. Crepitation (crunchy sound) when moving may be noted.

X-rays – Images show loss of cartilage space, bony spurs, and other joint damage.

Joint fluid analysis – Drawing fluid from the joint with a needle can exclude other causes like gout or infection.

MRI or CT scan – Advanced imaging gives a more refined view of bone and soft tissue joint damage.

Blood tests – These help rule out rheumatic diseases. Uric acid levels are checked for gout.

Doctors diagnose osteoarthritis based on classic symptoms plus X-ray evidence of joint damage. Early diagnosis allows for sooner treatment to control symptoms and improve function.

What Treatments are Used for Osteoarthritis?

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but various nonsurgical treatments can effectively control pain and improve mobility. Common options include:

Pain medications – Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, topical creams, or prescription anti-inflammatories help reduce osteoarthritis pain.

Weight loss – Losing excess weight reduces stress on weight-bearing joints to minimize further damage.

Assistive devices – Walkers, canes, grab bars, raised toilet seats, and jar openers help people remain independent.

Physical therapy – Stretching, strengthening exercises, and modalities like heat/ice help joint mobility and reduce stiffness.

Braces and splints – These support joints like knees and wrists to improve stability and function.

Activity modification – Avoiding activities that aggravate joint pain minimizes further damage.

Cortisone injections – Steroid medication injected directly into the joint can relieve osteoarthritis pain for weeks to months.

Surgery – If nonsurgical treatments fail, a joint replacement may be necessary for severely damaged joints.

Doctors often start with safer pain relievers and conservative care. As OA gets worse, stronger prescription medications or injections may be needed. Maintaining a healthy weight is also key.

How is Osteoarthritis Different from Other Arthritis Types?

There are actually over 100 medical conditions that fall under the umbrella term “arthritis.” Osteoarthritis is by far the most prevalent type. But how does OA differ from some other common arthritis varieties?

Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Autoimmune disease causing joint inflammation vs wear and tear

  • Usually affects smaller joints – wrists, fingers, toes

  • Symmetric joint involvement

  • More fatigue, flu-like symptoms

  • Starts at younger ages


  • Caused by uric acid crystal deposits in joints

  • Severe sudden pain, redness, swelling in one joint

  • Big toe most commonly affected

  • Comes and goes in acute flares

  • More common in men

Psoriatic Arthritis

  • Autoimmune condition associated with psoriasis rash

  • Fingernail changes like pitting

  • May cause spinal arthritis

  • Unpredictable pattern of joint involvement


  • A chronic pain syndrome, not an arthritis

  • Causes muscle pain and chronic widespread aching

  • No actual joint damage

Osteoarthritis Prevalence Continues to Increase

Due to aging populations and increasing rates of obesity, osteoarthritis is becoming even more

Chronic Conditions: Understanding Arthritis and its Symptoms | #shorts


Where does arthritis usually start?

Rheumatoid arthritis often starts in the small joints of the hands and feet, and it can affect the same joints on both sides of the body at the same time. It can start quite slowly and then gradually get worse, or it can start more aggressively. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect adults of any age.

What is the number one inflammatory arthritis?

A specific diagnosis can be made at the presentation in about 70% of such patients, the most common being rheumatoid arthritis. [6][7][8] Gout is the most common inflammatory arthritis, while rheumatoid arthritis is the most common autoimmune inflammatory arthritis.

What is the number one arthritis?

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Other forms include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Symptoms of arthritis are pain, aching, stiffness, and swelling in or around the joints.

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