Osteoarthritis: what is it?, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

What is?

Osteoarthritis is a rheumatic disease that damages the articular cartilage.

The joints are the components of the skeleton that allow us movement and, therefore, our functional autonomy and are formed by the union of two bones through the joint capsule. Inside them there is, generally, a fluid called synovial fluid that is produced by the synovial membrane. The bony ends that come together to form the joint are covered by articular cartilage.

When this articular cartilage is injured, pain, stiffness, and functional incapacity occur. Osteoarthritis is usually located in the cervical and lumbar spine, some joints of the shoulder and fingers, the hip, the knee, and the joint at the beginning of the big toe.


It is important to differentiate it from arthritis, since in this it is the inflammation that causes the disease and in osteoarthritis it is the "wear and tear". These are two diseases that cause pain, sometimes swelling and stiffness, but in osteoarthritis the pain is mechanical (that is, it is triggered by movement and improves with rest).


This rheumatic disease is not hereditary, but it does have a genetic risk component that, together with other factors, can make it appear more easily in subjects with a family history. It is important to know this and also know that risk factors such as obesity, lack of physical exercise or changes in posture influence the development of the disease and modifying them is within the patient's own reach both to prevent or delay the symptoms and to favor treatment.


In Spain, osteoarthritis affects 10% of the general population, representing almost a quarter of all patients seen in rheumatologists' offices. According to the EPISER 2016 study of the Spanish Society of Rheumatology, symptomatic knee osteoarthritis has a point prevalence of 13.83% and hand osteoarthritis of 7.73%. Likewise, other studies have revealed that around half of the adult population over 50 years of age shows radiological signs of knee osteoarthritis, although it is more frequent in women, especially over 55 years of age.

Types of osteoarthritis according to the affected area:

  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Hip arthrosis
  • Cervical osteoarthritis
  • Lumbar osteoarthritis
  • Hand osteoarthritis


The diagnosis of osteoarthritis is made taking into account the symptoms that the patient explains, the alterations that the doctor observes when exploring the joints and, in some cases, the complementary tests requested.

Among the complementary tests that help to confirm the diagnosis of osteoarthritis are simple X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging and joint fluid analysis if they have joint effusion. Blood and urine tests do not show alterations in osteoarthritis.