The vast majority of people in the world do not develop osteoarthritis of their weightbearing joints. Approximately 10% of the population is affected by some form of arthritis. In its most severe form, osteoarthritis leads to complete erosion of the articular cartilage or cushioning covering the ends of joints that bend and rotate. In the majority of patients, we do not know what causes osteoarthritis.
In a small percentage of patients, a history of trauma such as a fracture that involves the joint or a dislocation of the joint can lead to post-traumatic osteoarthritis. Another large category of arthritic conditions affecting joints is called inflammatory arthritis. The most common form of this is rheumatoid arthritis. This appears to be an autoimmune disease triggered by some event, possibly a virus that leads one’s immune system to attack the cartilage covering the ends of the joints. It can be a systemic illness affecting multiple joints, both weightbearing and non-weightbearing. It can also affect soft tissue. Early forms of osteoarthritis can be treated by exercise, weight reduction, modification of activity, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories among others. More significant forms often require prescription strength anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and at times surgery. With rheumatoid arthritis, similar measures can be helpful, and medications that modify the course of rheumatoid arthritis can be prescribed under a doctor’s supervision.
Whether or not you have arthritis and what treatment option would be appropriate for you is determined by your physician in conjunction with consultations with rheumatologists (doctors that specialize in the treatment of arthritis).