What is Osteoarthritis?

There are many types of arthritis. We are going to focus on osteoarthritis (OA) as it’s the most common and is generally what we treat at our physical therapy clinic in Durham. It is well known that 1 in 4 adults suffer from arthritis. Typically, arthritis occurs in the joint or the end of long bones (i.e. leg and arm).

The arthritis foundation reports the disease is the leading cause of disability and is more likely to occur in women or people who are obese. It’s important to understand that osteoarthritis is natural wear tear and doesn’t always cause pain. 

What causes Osteoarthritis?

As we move throughout the days, months, and years, the joint of one bone will rub on the joint of another. This natural occurrence begins to cause wear and tear on the joint which is made up of cartilage (a hard coating). This eventually leads to breakdown of the cartilage which can cause inflammation, swelling, joint stiffness, and possibly pain.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a natural aging process and will occur in all of us. However, the severity or progression of the disease is something we can, and should, do our best to prevent and control (see treatment below). As stated above, OA is the leading cause of disability and worsens as we age.

Risk Factors

If you have any of these risk factors then special care should be taken to prevent osteoarthritis:

  • Family history: Did your parents or grandparents suffer from OA?
  • Age: The older we are the more likely there is to be OA.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to present with OA.
  • Previous Injury to a joint: Past joint injuries can lead to increased wear and tear of the joint.
  • Obesity: Additional weight places increased stress on the joints which increases the rate of breakdown.


Here are some common symptoms of osteoarthritis:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint redness

Also, many of our clients will also report increased OA pain when a storm is moving in.


Osteoarthritis Treatment

Osteoarthritis cannot be cured. Therefore, it is important to begin osteoarthritis treatment early for pain associated with OA so you can prevent further breakdown of the joint. Likewise, OA is a degenerative disease and the less pain you feel due to osteoarthritis, the less degeneration that is taking place.

Treatment and prevention are key!

Proper nutrition, a healthy weight, and regular exercise are going to be the best defense against osteoarthritis. But once it takes place here is what we find to work best for osteoarthritis treatment.

Resistance training: Building strong muscles leads to decreased load on the joint. Strengthening should focus on the shoulders, spine, hips, and overall balance.

Flexibility exercises: Tight muscles can increase stresses on the joints. Many people with OA also have limited flexibility where the OA is present. A physical therapist can assess what exercises are needed based on your individual needs. 

Decrease inflammation: When joint redness and inflammation occur you can elevate the joint, apply ice, compression, and gently press the fluid in the direction of the heart.

If you're living with osteoarthritis and want to avoid pain meds, steroid injections, and living a life limited by this disease then we invite you to schedule a free phone consultation with our physical therapy clinic. This truly is one of the problems we help people overcome the most. No, the osteoarthritis cannot be cured. But, osteoarthritis doesn't have to cause pain.

  • Does osteoarthritis always cause pain?
  • Is osteoarthritis normal aging?
  • What is the best doctor to see for osteoarthritis?
  • Can physical therapy fix osteoarthritis?
  • Can cortisone (steroid) shots help osteoarthritis?
  • What is the main cause of osteoarthritis?
  • What should I avoid if I have osteoarthritis?
  • Can osteoarthritis be cured?
  • What exercise is best for osteoarthritis?
  • Does running cause knee osteoarthritis?
Does osteoarthritis always cause pain?

No, it doesn't. In fact, research has shown that the older we age the worse and worse osteoarthritis becomes. However, the literature shows that someone between the ages of 40-55 is when the majority of us will experience pain, but that's not when osteoarthritis is at its worst. 

Osteoarthritis is normal aging and is rarely the cause of pain. There are many other problems that mimic symptoms consistent with OA. 

Our physical therapy clinic sees a ton of people who have OA and we're able to help nearly all of them get out of pain. You can't see pain on an image (i.e. X-ray) — it's far more complex than that. You can see OA on an X-ray but you can't see pain. Therefore, we can't just assume it's the root cause of pain.

If you suffer from pain and have OA then find a physical therapist (or another specialist) who rules out all other possible causes for your pain prior to assuming the osteoarthritis is the cause. 

Many times when you return mobility and strength back to normal the pain diminishes, regardless of the diagnosis. 

Is osteoarthritis normal aging?

Yes, it is. However, the severity of the disease does differ from person to person. The literature shows the older we get the worse osteoarthritis becomes. However, it doesn't always lead to pain. 

There are people who present with severe OA but yet complain of no pain. Pain isn't normal, osteoarthritis is. If you're suffering from pain find a specialist who takes a detailed look at the entire body. 

Many times people in pain just need to improve mobility or strength in one, two, or three joints before the symptoms dissipate.

What is the best doctor to see for osteoarthritis?

It really depends on what solution you're looking for. If you want to avoid pain meds, cortisone injections, and surgery then we are the people to help.

Can physical therapy fix osteoarthritis?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, adequate physical therapy should decrease pain due to OA. 

A combination of flexibility and strength training should be used. Many times the area that hurts is in pain because it's compensating for a problem somewhere else. This is why you'll want to find a specialist who doesn't just assess the painful joint but finds problems at surrounding joints and works with you to fix those.

OA can and should be, managed conservatively through physical therapy to help with pain, then a maintenance program (done on your own) to stay pain-free.

Can cortisone (steroid) shots help osteoarthritis?

No, they won't. Cortisone shots can decrease pain and inflammation but they won't help the disease improve. In fact, cortisone shots have been shown to cause cartilage damage and bone loss (the very cause of osteoarthritis). Therefore, cortisone shots should be used extremely sparingly and should always be followed up with therapy. 

If a cortisone shot helps relieve the pain (they don't always work), it's only a matter of time before the pain returns if the root problem that caused the symptoms, to begin with, is still present.

What is the main cause of osteoarthritis?

This depends on the individual. Osteoarthritis is natural aging, but the severity of the disease does differ from person to person. 

A previous injury can increase your chances for OA, or worsen the progression of the disease.

Not exercising, eating healthy, or being overweight can also contribute to more severe OA. 

A combination of mobility and strength training will keep the joints healthy and pain-free.

What should I avoid if I have osteoarthritis?

Cortisone shots. They have been shown to cause cartilage damage and bone loss, the very cause of osteoarthritis. 

You'll also want to avoid bed rest and an inactive lifestyle. Exercise, a healthy diet, and maintaining a proper weight, are going to be best for fighting off OA and pain.

Can osteoarthritis be cured?

No, it cannot. But pain caused by OA can be managed conservatively. Many times people with OA have stiff and weak joints that require progressive exercise. 

If the pain limits exercise then we use a variety of pain relief techniques to diminish the pain with the end goal always being exercise. Exercise is how you keep OA from hurting — it serves to keep the joint healthy and can improve damage due to increased blood flow and nutrients.

What exercise is best for osteoarthritis?

If it's not painful then resistance training is going to be best. Resistance training will build strength in the muscles surrounding the joint which will reduce the amount of load placed on the joint. 

However, if the joint is painful and is limiting you from exercising then pain-relieving techniques should be performed first. We find a combination of myofascial release and simple stretches to work extremely well to begin improving pain. The end goal should always be to get back to exercising and resistance training as this will prolong joint health.

Does running cause knee osteoarthritis?

Not unless you run more than 57 miles per week. In fact, research shows people who don't run present with worse OA than those who do. All types of movement are healthy for your body and joints. You can see the study for yourself below.

Wondering if our physical therapy clinic is the right approach for your problem?

Medical Disclaimer:

All information on this website is intended for instruction and informational purposes only. The authors are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result. Significant injury risk is possible if you do not follow due diligence and seek suitable professional advice about your injury. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied on this website.