Osteoarthritis (OA) is a type of joint disease that results from the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage that cushions the joints. It is the most common type of arthritis and affects millions of people worldwide.

The technical term for osteoarthritis is “degenerative joint disease.” This term refers to the gradual deterioration of the joint cartilage and underlying bone that occurs in OA. Other technical terms used to describe OA include “degenerative arthritis” and “osteoarthrosis.”

OA can occur in any joint in the body, but it is most commonly found in weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, and spine, as well as in the hands and feet. The primary hallmark of OA is pain and stiffness in the affected joint, which can interfere with normal daily activities.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that is caused by a combination of factors, including:

Wear and tear: Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs due to the natural wear and tear of joints over time. It is a common condition in older adults.

Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing osteoarthritis, making them more likely to develop the condition.

Trauma: Joints that have been injured in the past, such as from a fracture or ligament tear, are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.

Obesity: Excessive weight puts added stress on joints, particularly the knees, and hips, which can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Abnormal joint anatomy: Joints that are malformed or do not move properly can lead to osteoarthritis.

Occupational hazards: People who perform repetitive motions or heavy manual labor may be at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in certain joints.

Metabolic disorders: Certain metabolic disorders, such as gout, can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

The above factors can cause a variety of changes in the joint, including the breakdown of cartilage, the development of bone spurs, and the release of inflammatory molecules that can cause pain and swelling.

Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pain: Pain is the most common symptom of osteoarthritis, and it can be severe and debilitating. The pain is often felt in the affected joint during or after physical activity, and it may improve with rest.
  • Stiffness: People with osteoarthritis may experience stiffness in the affected joint, especially after periods of inactivity such as sitting or sleeping.
  • Swelling: The affected joint may become swollen and tender, and the surrounding tissues may also be warm to the touch.
  • Decreased range of motion: People with osteoarthritis may experience a decrease in the range of motion in the affected joint, making it difficult to perform certain activities.
  • Crepitus: A crackling or grinding sensation may be felt in the affected joint, particularly during movement. This is known as crepitus and is caused by the rough edges of the bones rubbing together.
  • Bone spurs: As the cartilage in the joint breaks down, the bones may begin to rub against each other, leading to the formation of bony growths called bone spurs.
  • Soft tissue changes: People with osteoarthritis may also experience changes in the soft tissues surrounding the affected joint, including changes in muscle mass and fatty tissue.

The above symptoms can be diagnosed through a physical examination, imaging tests such as X-rays, and/or a patient’s medical history and reported symptoms.

Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Physiotherapy can be an effective treatment option for osteoarthritis, helping to relieve pain and improve joint function. A typical physiotherapy program for osteoarthritis may include:

Exercise: Gentle exercises, such as low-impact aerobics and strengthening exercises, can help to improve joint flexibility, strength, and mobility.

Joint mobilization: Manual therapy techniques may be used to help improve joint mobility and reduce pain.

Assistive devices: Physiotherapists may recommend assistive devices, such as braces, canes, or crutches, to help relieve pressure on the affected joint and improve mobility.

Pain management: Physiotherapists may use techniques such as heat or cold therapy, electrotherapy, or pain-relieving exercises to help manage pain.

Postural education and advice: Physiotherapists can provide information on how to maintain good posture and prevent future injury.

Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce the strain on joints and reduce pain. A physiotherapist can provide advice and support for weight management.

It’s important to note that the specific physiotherapy treatment for osteoarthritis will vary based on the individual and the severity of their condition. A physiotherapist can develop a personalized treatment plan based on a thorough assessment of the individual’s specific needs and symptoms.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a therapist about osteoarthritis please call us at 03 9836 1126.



Kuijer, P. P., Verhagen, A. P., van der Windt, D. A., Koes, B. W., & Boers, M. (2007). Physical therapy for osteoarthritis of the hip or knee: A systematic review. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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