What is degenerative osteoarthritis?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is caused by day-to-day, wear and tear on your joints. Over time, the cartilage in your joints slowly degenerates or breaks down, causing your bones to rub together. This weakening of your joint cartilage can lead to increased inflammation, swelling and pain [Medline Plus]. The joints typically affected by generative osteoarthritis are the hands, hips, knees, neck and lower back [Mayo Clinic]. The primary risk factor for degenerative osteoarthritis is age. In fact, almost all elderly people experience symptoms related to degenerative osteoarthritis. You may be at increased risk for this condition if you are overweight, have a family history of osteoarthritis, have a history of injury or excessively use a certain joint [Mayo Clinic].

Joint stiffness and pain are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis. You may experience stiffness trying to get out of bed in the morning. You may also experience increased joint pain right after exercise or physical exertion. It's also typical to feel increased joint pain as the day progresses and relief from pain when you're resting [Medline Plus]. These symptoms may develop slowly and go unnoticed for quite some time.


Mild degenerative osteoarthritis is effectively treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Ibuprofen has the added benefit of also reducing inflammation. You can request a prescription for stronger pain relievers if these over-the-counter options are not sufficient. Cortisone shots, braces and shoe inserts may also prove helpful in reducing joint pain and stiffness. You may also benefit from pain management courses and physical therapy. If your osteoarthritis progresses and becomes severe, you may need surgery [Mayo Clinic; Medline Plus]. Your lifestyle habits can have a significant impact on your joint pain and stiffness. You may be able to reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis by getting enough rest, losing weight and engaging in proper exercise [Mayo Clinic].