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Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint disease, causing large amounts of disability and pain in the Australian community. There are a number of risk factors for osteoarthritis including excess weight or obesity, joint injury, repetitive kneeling or squatting and repetitive heavy lifting.

Three key characteristics of osteoarthritis are:

  • mild inflammation of the tissues in and around the joints
  • damage to cartilage, the strong, smooth surface that lines the bones and allows joints to move easily and without friction
  • bony growths that develop around the edge of the joints.

Osteoarthritis mostly occurs in the knees, hips and small joints of the hands and base of the big toe. However, almost any joint can be affected.

If you think you may have osteoarthritis then you should see your doctor. There is no definitive test to diagnose the condition, so they will ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints and muscles.

Sources: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (A picture of osteoarthritis in Australia), NHS Choices, UK (Osteoarthritis, Diagnosing osteoarthritis)

Just diagnosed

Osteoarthritis can be effectively managed with medicine, exercise and in some cases surgery.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from person to person, and between different affected joints.

The amount of damage to the joints and the severity of symptoms can also vary. For example, a joint may be severely damaged without causing symptoms, or symptoms may be severe without affecting the movement of a joint.

Further tests, such as X-rays or blood tests, are not usually required to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. However, you may have further tests if your doctor wants to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis or a fractured bone.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the symptoms can be eased with a number of different treatments. These include non-drug treatments such as physiotherapy and weight loss, medicine such as painkillers, and surgery.

Mild symptoms can often be managed with exercise or by wearing suitable footwear. More advanced cases of osteoarthritis may require other treatments.

Arthritis Australia provides more information on osteoarthritis through their website at, or by calling their Arthritis Information Line on 1800 011 041.

Sources: Arthritis Australia (homepage), Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (A picture of osteoarthritis in Australia), NHS Choices, UK (Osteoarthritis, Diagnosing osteoarthritis, Living with osteoarthritis)

Living with

With the right support, you can lead a healthy, active life with osteoarthritis. It doesn’t have to get worse and it doesn’t always lead to disability.

To maintain physical and mental health a good diet and regular exercise will help keep muscles strong and control your weight, which is good for osteoarthritis and also has other health benefits.

It is important to take your medicine as prescribed, even if you start to feel better.

Continuous medicine can help prevent pain sometimes, although if your medicine has been prescribed ‘as required’, you may not need to take them in between painful episodes. If you have any questions about the medicine you are on, discuss them with your doctor.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Living with osteoarthritis)

Facts & figures

  • Osteoarthritis affects more than 1.6 million Australians, and is a major cause of disability, psychological distress and poor quality of life.
  • Osteoarthritis most commonly develops between the ages of 45 to 90 years.
  • Females are more commonly affected than males.
  • In Australia in 2007-08 there were 86,000 hospitalisations with osteoarthritis as the principle diagnosis. 26% of the hospitalisations involved a total knee replacement.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Arthritis, osteoporosis and other musculoskeletal conditions)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013