Arthritis is a group of more than 100 conditions that cause joint pain and inflammation. The most common type, osteoarthritis, is caused by the breakdown of cartilage on the ends of bones in a joint.
Osteoarthritis is divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary osteoarthritis occurs as a result of degenerative changes to the cartilage without a known cause. Secondary osteoarthritis occurs in the presence of a preexisting condition.
Read on to learn more about the differences between primary and secondary osteoarthritis.
Doctors classify osteoarthritis as primary when it has no known cause, and they classify it as secondary when the cause is an underlying injury or condition.
Synovial joints are joints that have a cavity filled with fluid between two bones. Osteoarthritis most commonly develops in the following joints:
- lower back
Osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage that covers the ends of your bones breaks down. This causes the ends of the bones to rub against each other, leading to symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility.
Primary osteoarthritis is also called idiopathic osteoarthritis. “Idiopathic” means that the cause is not clear. But even though the exact cause remains unknown, researchers have identified some risk factors that increase the odds of developing the condition.
- increasing age
- previous fracture
- repetitive stress
- occupations involving heavy manual work
- high impact sports
Secondary osteoarthritis occurs when a preexisting condition leads to the breakdown of cartilage in a joint. It
Your doctor may suspect secondary osteoarthritis if you develop osteoarthritis in a joint in which it typically does not occur.
- genetic joint conditions such as congenital hip dislocation, hip dysplasia, and joint hypermobility syndromes
- trauma, such as an ACL tear, a bone fracture, or a meniscectomy (surgery to treat a damaged meniscus in the knee)
- metabolic conditions such as gout, hemochromatosis, and ochronosis
- endocrine conditions such as hypothyroidism, acromegaly, and diabetes
- neuropathic conditions such as diabetes and syphilis
- other conditions, such as infectious arthropathy, Paget disease, and osteonecrosis
Other forms of arthritis can also contribute to the development of secondary osteoarthritis.
For example, in a
Researchers estimate that about
- joint injury or overuse
- being a woman — particularly a woman older than 50
- increasing age
- family history
- ethnicity — some Asian populations have a lower risk
Other factors that may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis include:
- muscle weakness
- joint injury
- physically strenuous occupation
- low quadriceps strength
- low sex hormone levels
- low bone density
- inadequate diet
If you receive an osteoarthritis diagnosis, your doctor can help you make a treatment plan. Generally, your doctor will recommend starting with conservative treatments like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and changing your activity habits, if necessary.
Potential side effects of NSAIDs include:
- gastrointestinal bleeding
- chronic renal insufficiency
Additionally, acetaminophen (Tylenol), an OTC analgesic, is often recommended for OA. It does not have some of the side effects that NSAIDs do.
If conservative treatments aren’t improving your symptoms, your doctor may recommend prescription pain medications, injections, or surgery as a last resort.
Your doctor can also evaluate you for other health conditions that may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis. Some conditions that affect your whole body, such as gout and diabetes, can predispose you to joint problems.
Osteoarthritis doesn’t have a cure, but certain changes and medications can help ease symptoms.
Weight loss and exercise
If you have obesity or overweight, your doctor may recommend that you try to lose weight to take some stress off your joints. Losing weight is also
Regular exercise can help strengthen your muscles and joints and assist with weight loss.
Your doctor may recommend OTC medications such as:
If these aren’t effective, they may recommend steroid injections. These injections contain a medication similar to the hormone cortisol that helps reduce inflammation and pain for weeks or months.
Your doctor may also recommend supportive treatments to reduce pain. These can include:
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
- hot and cold packs
- assistive devices such as splints, shock-absorbing footwear, special insoles, or a walking stick or cane
Surgery is usually necessary only in severe cases of osteoarthritis, when other treatments are not effective. Doctors may use the following types of surgery to treat osteoarthritis:
- Joint fusion: This procedure involves fusing the bones on either side of a joint to reduce pain. Afterward, you will no longer be able to move the joint.
- Joint replacement: In this procedure, a surgeon will replace your affected joint with a prosthesis made of plastics and metal.
- Osteotomy: Osteotomy is used to treat knee and hip osteoarthritis. It involves adding a small section of bone from above or below your knee or hip to alleviate symptoms.
Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis characterized by the breakdown of cartilage and other tissues in a joint. It can be categorized as either primary or secondary osteoarthritis. Primary osteoarthritis has no known cause, while secondary osteoarthritis is caused by a preexisting disease, injury, or misalignment.
Osteoarthritis becomes more common with age. If you’re dealing with persistent joint pain, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Your doctor can recommend treatment strategies to help reduce pain and manage your symptoms.