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  • Osteoarthritis is a breakdown of the cartilage inside a joint.
  • People over 45 are more at risk, but younger people can be affected too.
  • Exercise is one of the best ways to manage osteoarthritis.

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Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is most likely to develop in people aged over 45 years, although it can occur in younger people. Many people will develop symptoms as they age.

A joint is a structure that allows movement at the meeting point of two bones. Cartilage is a firm cushion that covers the ends of the two bones, absorbing shock and enabling the bones to glide smoothly over each other. The joint is wrapped inside a tough capsule filled with synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the cartilage and other structures in the joint and keeps it moving smoothly.

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes brittle and breaks down. Some pieces of cartilage may even break away and float around inside the synovial fluid.

Deterioration of cartilage can lead to degeneration in the joint. Eventually, the cartilage can break down so much that it no longer cushions the two bones.


Symptoms of osteoarthritis 

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary from one person to the next. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • stiffness
  • joint pain
  • muscle weakness.

Joints affected by osteoarthritis

All joints can be affected by osteoarthritis. Most commonly, it is the weight-bearing joints that are affected, including:

  • knees – sometimes due to an old injury
  • hips – older people are most at risk
  • spine – in the neck or lower back.
  • hands – usually the end finger joints.

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Risk factors for osteoarthritis

The cause of osteoarthritis is unclear, but some risk factors have been identified. These include:

  • being overweight or obese
  • a family history of osteoarthritis
  • a previous injury, significant trauma or overuse of the joint.

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Diagnosis of osteoarthritis

If you are experiencing joint pain, it is important to see your doctor for a diagnosis. Many different conditions can cause joint pain and they require different treatments.

Your doctor may request an x-ray of the painful joint(s) and work with you to come up with a plan to manage your symptoms. Sometimes, they may refer you to a specialist (rheumatologist or orthopaedic surgeon) if necessary.

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Management of osteoarthritis

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the condition can be managed using exercise, weight loss, medications or surgery if necessary.

Osteoarthritis and exercise

Movement is a very important tool in the management of osteoarthritis. The right type of exercise can help to keep the joints mobile and maintain or improve function. Movement is important as it can:

  • maximise the health of the cartilage
  • maintain joint movement
  • improve muscle strength.

Cartilage does not have a blood supply, so it relies on the synovial fluid moving in and out of the joint to nourish it and remove its wastes. Exercises that involve moving the joints through their range of movement will also help maintain flexibility that is otherwise lost as a result of the arthritis.

Pain associated with arthritis has a weakening effect on the surrounding muscles. However, by undertaking strengthening exercises, muscle weakness can be reversed. Strong muscles will support sore joints.

Talk to your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist about suitable exercises. A variety of exercise that promotes muscle strength, joint flexibility and support, and improved balance and coordination is encouraged. Warm water exercise and tai chi may be suitable exercise programs.

Other ways to manage arthritis

Other techniques that can help in the management of osteoarthritis include:

  • Education – find out about your condition. Click here to find out about seminars, webinars and other events to help you learn more about your condition.
  • Weight management – controlling weight is important for those who are overweight and have osteoarthritis in weight-bearing joints. Your doctor or dietitian may be able to advise you on safe weight loss strategies.
  • Medication – pain-relieving medications can help, as advised by your doctor.
  • Relaxation techniques – for example, muscle relaxation, meditation or visualisation – can help manage pain and the difficult emotions, such as anxiety, which are sometimes experienced by people with arthritis.
  • Support – seek support from others, including family, friends, work colleagues and health professionals. A support or self-help group may be another option.
  • Surgery – damaged joints can be replaced in cases of advanced osteoarthritis.
  • Patella taping, knee braces and orthotics – may be useful in the management of knee osteoarthritis. Seek advice from a physiotherapist or podiatrist.
  • Equipment that promotes independence – many specially designed aids and types of equipment are available to help people with painful joints. The design of this equipment, such as large-handled kitchen utensils, reduces the strain on the joints. For more information, speak to an occupational therapist.

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Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • MOVE muscle, bone & joint health
    Help Line Tel. 1800 263 265

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Things to remember

  • Osteoarthritis is a breakdown of the cartilage inside a joint.
  • People over 45 are more at risk, but younger people can be affected too.
  • Exercise is one of the best ways to manage osteoarthritis.

More information

  • Need medical information regarding your condition and commonly prescribed treatments? Or assistance navigating the health, disability and social services systems? Contact our nurses on the Help Line on 1800 263 265 or email helpline@move.org.au.
  • Interested in finding out about our upcoming webinars and seminars and other events. Click here to learn more.  

Download a PDF of this information. 

This information has been provided by the Better Health Channel and has been produced in consultation with and approved by: MOVE muscle, bone & joint health Ltd.

My Story

My Story

For Ken and Evelyn Missen, living with osteoarthritis has had one valuable upside: it was the reason they met. They have both been activeactive: This can refer to a person who is busy doing different exercise. Active can also refer to the presence or progress of a disease. leaders of the Waves program in Melbourne for many years, and see the physical as well as the mental benefits of staying active. Apart from having eight grandchildren between them, they also work closely with at-risk and vulnerable people within their local community, and hope to encourage more men to seek treatmenttreatment: The action and/or medicine used to take care of a disease or injury. for their musculoskeletalmusculoskeletal: Relating to or involving the muscles or skeleton (bones). conditions.

Ken and Evelyn tell their story

Move - muscle, bone and joint health, the new voice of Arthritis Victoria

Welcome to MOVE muscle, bone & joint health, the new voice of Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria.

We may have a new name but since 1968 we have been the leading provider of supported solutions and trusted knowledge to the one-in-three Australians who live with these conditions.

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