Aching bones and stiff joints might seem like part of getting older, but they could be symptomatic of osteoarthritis (OA), one of the most common forms of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Osteoarthritis currently affects an estimated 27 million Americans, and the chronic condition is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. As the cartilage breaks down, the bones rub against one another, which causes the well-known arthritis symptoms including stiffness, pain, and loss of movement in the joint.
The disease is believed to have a long history, dating back to ancient humans; evidence of osteoarthritis has been detected in skeletons from the Ice Age. Despite the fact that it has been a part of the human history for so many years, and so many people are diagnosed with the condition, the cause is not completely known. And, unfortunately, there is no cure.
The Arthritis Foundation outlines the four stages of osteoarthritis and describes them as:
1. Cartilage loses elasticity and becomes more easily damaged by injury or use.
2. The underlying bones change due to the wear of the cartilage, generally thickening and developing cysts or bone spurs at the affected joint.
3. Cartilage or bits of bone float loosely in the joint space.
4. The joint lining becomes inflamed due to cartilage breakdown, and may become further damaged.
Because there is no cure for osteoarthritis, it can be a progressive and painful condition. While the cause is not entirely known, risk factors include age, genetics, obesity, and injury or overuse of the joints.