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Complications of osteoarthritis

Reduced mobility

If you have osteoarthritis, you may sometimes find it difficult to move around. This can increase your risk of accidents and injuries such as trips and falls. If pain and reduced mobility are severe enough, it may warrant surgery.

Complications in and around a joint

Complications in and around a joint include:

  • rapid, complete breakdown of cartilage resulting in loose tissue material in the joint (chondrolysis)
  • bone death (osteonecrosis) - which may require surgery to remove the affected part of the bone
  • stress fractures (hairline crack in the bone that develops gradually in response to repeated injury or stress)
  • bleeding inside the joint
  • infection in the joint
  • deterioration or rupture of the tendons and ligaments around the joint, leading to loss of stability.

Pinched nerve

A pinched nerve can occur, especially in osteoarthritis of the spine.

Pain management

Osteoarthritis of the feet commonly affects the base of the big toe or ankle. It can cause pain when you walk and lead to a bunion (a bony outgrowth) at the affected joint. The type of shoes you wear can influence this, so avoid shoes that have not been properly fitted or that have a raised heel. An ankle or leg brace may ease the symptoms.

Talk to others

Many people find it helpful to talk to other people who are in a similar position to them. You may find support from a group or by talking to someone else who has osteoarthritis.

Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet other people with the same condition. For information from Arthritis Australia on activities in your state or territory call 1800 011 041.

Understanding your feelings

A diagnosis of osteoarthritis can initially be confusing and overwhelming. Like many people with a long-term health condition, those who find out they have osteoarthritis may feel anxious or depressed. But there are people you can talk to who can help. Talk to your doctor if you feel you need support in coping with your illness.

Last reviewed: September 2016

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