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By Melanie Soer, B.Sc. Kin., MPT, CGIMS, Registered Physiotherapist

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that can affect any joint in the body. A joint is a junction point where two bones meet. These bones are covered with a layer of cartilage that acts like a smooth protective surface or “bumper”.

When osteoarthritis occurs, this cartilage has begun to wear away or thin progressively. This can lead to pain, as the nerves within the bones are more exposed to the forces applied through the joints.


While not everyone has the same symptoms, these are most common:

  1. Joints stiffness lasting less than 30-60 minutes
  2. Joint pain with particular movements/activities
  3. Swelling in the affected joint
  4. Loss of joint movement

You may notice that symptoms are often worse by the end of the day.

Different kinds of arthritis

Osteoarthritis is different from Inflammatory Arthritis (IA). IA is an autoimmune condition that manifests as painful, hot, swollen joints on both sides of the body and involves more than 3-4 joints at once. These symptoms are not a common presentation in osteoarthritis.

Common causes of OA

  1. Age – this does not cause OA, but it does become more prevalent as we get older
  2. Obesity – extra weight places more forces through weight bearing joints
  3. Previous injury or surgery – these can leave lasting damage within the joint
  4. Other types of Arthritis – chronic inflammation can lead to quicker erosion of cartilage
  5. Heredity – congenital causes for how your bones fit together (scoliosis, hip dysplasia etc.), may make you more susceptible to developing OA later in life

There is no cure for OA, which may sound discouraging, but being diagnosed is not a dead end road.  There are many things that can be done to try to slow the progression of Osteoarthritis and manage your symptoms.

A team of health care practitioners such as your family doctor, physiotherapist, and occupational therapist can help you develop a self-management program. In the meantime, here are some great online resources to get you started:

Home – Mary Pack Arthritis Centre – VCH

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