Osteoarthritis (OA) is a rheumatic disease, in which the cartilage in the joints is getting thinner and softer. The cartilage may eventually even disappear completely. The patient suffers from pain and stiffness. The disease mainly occurs in the joints of the hands, knees and hips. Osteoarthritis can lead to severe limitations and significantly affects daily functioning.


The risk of osteoarthritis increases with age. But the disease can also be part of a rheumatic disorder, so a person might have to deal with it at young age. Genetic predisposition often plays a role then. Risk factors are:

Cold and a humid climate are not causes of osteoarthritis, but often do affect the symptoms. Of all rheumatic diseases, osteoarthritis is the most common.


The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness. This is caused by the loss of cartilage, the rubbing of bones over each other and bone accretions. Characteristic is the so-called ‘starting pain’ when a patient starts moving after a period of rest. However, pain may also occur at rest, for example when lying on bed at night. Due to the pain, the patient tends to move the joint less and less. This causes stiffness and weakens the muscles around the joint.
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but is most common in the neck, (low) back, knees, hips, hands (thumb and fingers), toes (big toe) and shoulder.


In order to make the diagnosis of osteoarthritis, the doctor usually has enough information from the story of the patient about his or her symptoms and a physical examination. An X-ray is sometimes made. Depending on the symptoms, additional examination, such as blood test, may be carried out in order to exclude other conditions.


Osteoarthritis cannot be cured. The treatment is therefore aimed at controlling the pain and maintaining the best possible function of joints and muscles. The following treatments are used:


Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition, that doesn’t cure and slowly gets worse. If a clear cause can be found for the osteoarthritis, such as a cruciate ligament injury, then that’s a positive sign that the disease won’t occur in other joints. If no clear cause can be found, it is more likely that osteoarthritis will also develop in other joints.