Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with the breakdown of a joint's cartilage. Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers and cushions the ends of bones in normal joints. Its main function is to reduce friction in the joints and serve as a "shock absorber."
Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in a joint to become stiff and lose its elasticity, making it more susceptible to damage. Over time, the cartilage may wear away in some areas, greatly decreasing its ability to act as a shock absorber. As the cartilage wears away, tendons and ligaments stretch, causing pain. If the condition worsens, the bones could rub against each other, causing even more pain and loss of movement.
OA is most common in middle-aged and older people, and its symptoms can range from very mild to very severe. The disorder most often affects hands and weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips, feet and the back, but can affect almost any joint in the body. Women are more commonly affected than men.
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